Square dancers to be rewarded
China’s most controversial, if not notorious, ad hoc public activity — square dancing — will be rated and financially rewarded in a suburban district in Shanghai, according to local newspaper Shanghai Morning Post.
Dancing teams rated with five stars will receive allowances, professional artistic coaching and perhaps most importantly, better venues for dancing assigned by the government, as Jiang Lili, a member of the newly established Citizens’ Culture Square Administration Council of Minhang district, told the Post on June 24.
It’s estimated there are 200 or so square dancing teams in the district, which has a population of 2.5 million people. Residents living in the same area usually voluntarily organize the teams.
The council is said to be the first in the city, if not the country, to officially administrate and back up the popular public dancing activity, which for the past several years has been viewed nationwide in a somewhat negative light, as a growing legion of dancers — mostly female retirees — have taken over not only public squares but every possible public space across the country for dancing.
Last summer, an elderly man from the exact district stabbed another to death while both were square dancing. Witnesses said the dispute arose when the victim stepped on the toes of the assailant because of the limited space.
At the heart of stigma, or what has pitted the millions of square dancers against folks in neighborhoods, is the disturbing noise from the loudspeakers dancers use to blast music up until late night. Square dancing is usually performed within or near neighborhoods after 7 pm, when housewives have fulfilled their daily duties of preparing dinner and cleanup. It’s also the time when working stiffs return home and expect rest and tranquility.
In angry opposition to the activity, Tibetan mastiffs have been set on dancers, feces dumped, shotguns fired in the air and sound systems built to warn against the dance music.
Social media has responded with jokes and lampoons largely posted by young people who use it as an outlet to vent their objections. They refer to it as the “zombie dance” or “menopause dance” (for the age and gender of the majority of dancers), and the dance ‘only a tornado could stop’. On the other hand, video clips featuring dancing grannies in uniformed costumes and with synchronized moves remain one of the most popular hits online.
In Shanghai, the passion for dancing has been more deeply rooted.
Senior citizens always glow with pride when conversations turn to the city’s tradition and passion for dancing. It’s as if Shanghai earned its ‘Oriental Paris’ moniker in the 1930s simply because of the endless foxtrot, rumba, or tango on the spring floor of the Paramount Ballroom, the dubbed No.1 ballroom in the East.
“We call it social dance. And it used to be a must-acquire skill like swimming or cycling if you wanted to be a social animal,” said Chen Gang, an 80-year-old Shanghai native and composer whose violin concerto, Butterfly Lovers, remains one of China’s most famous works of modern music. His father, Chen Gexin, is the composer of 1930s pop songs like Rose, Rose I Love You and Shanghai Nighttime, which have been adapted for ballroom music today.
As the generation born before the 1960s, when ballroom dancing started to be forbidden and large numbers of ballrooms shut down because of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in China, has now reached their age of retirement and regained time for dancing, public open spaces prove the only venue for them to relive their old hobby.
But for the more than 2,000 square dancers in Minhang district, it’s no easy task to earn five stars, or essentially, to gain government allowance and support, for their old hobby.
Every team must at least perform for charity events once to earn five points of credit, for example. If any complaints are filed about the team or disputes happen within the team, credits earned will be deducted. The team with highest credits will be awarded with five stars and distributed with the best social resources, as the district’s government official promised.