A history of Hongkongers dancing – including cha-cha champion Bruce Lee. By CARMEN TING香港人翩翩起舞的歷史,包括恰恰舞王李小龍。撰文:丁玗琦


THE MUSICÕS ON: La Cumparsita. The setting: Milonga Corazon at DanzStage studio in Tin Hau.

I meet the gaze of a smiling man on the other side on the dancefloor. I nod (a

cabeceo). We gently meet in the middle of the dancefloor and do the ocho (a figure of eight move), giro (a circular move),

enrosque (spinning in a corkscrew action) and boleo (a kick). This is the typical way of finding a partner at Argentine tango parties, which are known as milongas.

Argentine tango was brought to Hong Kong in 1994, when the late Sir David Tang and Belgian expat Anne Decortis invited Argentine dancers to teach and perform. The elegant dance captured the hearts of many in Hong Kong, among them Baroness Lydia Dunn and former chief secretary Anson Chan. It allowed strangers to enjoy an intimate, fun dance without practice

(or verbal communication). Today, Hong Kong’s tango community has grown to over 300 regulars, with milongas taking place several nights a week at Tin Hau’s DanzStage and several other popular studios across the city, such as Otrotango Dance Studio in Tsim Sha Tsui. Tango maestros from Buenos Aires visit Hong Kong and host workshops almost every month.

Argentine tango came late to Hong Kong; but the history of dancing in the city goes back to the 1920s, when expat women were recorded ‘teaching dancing’ in the red light districts, according to local history expert Cheng Po-hung. Until the 1950s, dancing was mainly the preserve of the rich, as well as businessmen who closed deals in Wan Chai’s nightclubs.

It was in the 1950s and ’60s that social dancing began to shed its association with prostitution, becoming a hobby of the masses. Young Hongkongers also started to embrace Western pop music as well as movies. Being a zeitgeisty teenager of his time, the future action star Bruce Lee was no exception. He went further than most: 60 years ago this month, 18-year- old Lee won Hong Kong’s cha- cha dance competition. (He partnered with his younger brother Robert so he didn’t make the girls jealous.)

Later, the focus moved to ballroom dancing. In the 1990s, the government promoted it as a sport in schools and among the elderly. Today, there are over 300,000 ballroom dancers in Hong Kong, according to an estimate from the Hong Kong Ballroom Dancing Council, which lists over 30 dance schools on its website. Teacher Sam Chow, who’s been dancing for over 20 years, says the majority of ballroom dancers in Hong Kong are students or people over 40, who dance mainly at large dinner parties for anniversaries and birthdays. Morning, tea or dinner dance sessions can be found in Chinese banquet halls or restaurants, mostly in Kowloon and the New Territories, and are typically frequented by more mature dancers.

Hongkongers are better known for overtime rather than over- expressive dance – but that hasn’t stopped me. I’ve been dancing since taking a cha- cha trial class in Vancouver in 2003, and have since picked up ballroom, Argentine tango and pole dancing. It’s transformed my lifestyle.

It also transformed the life of Monica Wong, former head of private banking at HSBC. Fifteen years ago, she agreed a HK$120 million sum for eight years of unlimited dance classes with two world Latin dance champions. It didn’t end well: she eventually sued the pair for ‘emotional distress’, winning back her multimillion- dollar advance.

Back in Tin Hau, the music stops.

I open my eyes, as if waking from a dream. My partner walks me back to my table. I still find it unbelievable how deeply you can connect with a stranger without saying a word.

That was my first cabeceo experience seven years ago: it was the first of many more to come.

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