Square dancers to be re­warded

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By XU JUN­QIAN in Shang­hai

xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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