Danc­ing the night, and years, away

Shanghai Daily - - LIFESTYLE - Kelly Wang

In a sparkling white cap and over­sized sun­glasses, 55-year-old re­tiree Zhang Yongli and dozens of her neigh­bors liven up a Shang­hai park by do­ing the jit­ter­bug, part of a pub­lic dance craze that has be­come a na­tional pas­time.

Every day, more than 100 mil­lion peo­ple — dubbed “danc­ing aun­ties,” as they are pri­mar­ily older women — take over squares and parks to tango, waltz and grind out ev­ery­thing from fla­menco to tra­di­tional dance.

Com­plaints over speak­ers blar­ing late at night have fol­lowed, and even phys­i­cal brawls pit­ting aun­ties against oth­ers vy­ing for park turf, or just seek­ing some peace and quiet.

But toes are tap­ping to an ever-quick­en­ing beat as line danc­ing, of­ten re­ferred to as “square danc­ing” in China, takes cen­ter stage among the golden gen­er­a­tion.

Teams are com­pet­ing in dance-offs fea­tur­ing thou­sands of con­tes­tants, while a thriv­ing mar­ket of dance-re­lated para­pher­na­lia and mo­bile apps has caught the at­ten­tion of the busi­ness world.

Even the gov­ern­ment has jumped on the band­wagon to ex­tol the health ben­e­fits.

“Square danc­ing hap­pens wher­ever there is a square,” said Wang Guangcheng, a fit­ness in­struc­tor and chore­og­ra­pher who is help­ing de­vise dance rou­tines and is widely known as China’s “Square Dance Prince.”

More than 240 mil­lion Chi­nese are aged over 60, a num­ber ex­pected to dou­ble by 2050.

By then, the gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates China will be spend­ing more than one-quar­ter of its GDP on el­der care and med­i­cal ser­vices, com­pared to around 7 per­cent in 2015, plac­ing in­creas­ing im­por­tance on healthy, ac­tive life­styles.

Zhang “was sit­ting at home, do­ing noth­ing” af­ter re­tir­ing five years ago from her travel- agency job, un­der­go­ing treat­ment for di­a­betes, high blood pres­sure and choles­terol.

“Since I started danc­ing, my (health) in­di­ca­tors are now nor­mal. I no longer need med­i­ca­tion,” she said as her neigh­bor­hood dance group’s red skirts twirled in Zhong­shan Park.

“I also look younger,” said Zhang, who has jived away 11 kilo­grams of body­weight.

A 2016 na­tional fit­ness plan stressed that “square danc­ing” should be “vig­or­ously de­vel­oped” as a team sport and last year it be­came an event at China’s Na­tional Games along­side old re­li­ables like ath­let­ics and swim­ming. Lo­cal con­tests are pro­lif­er­at­ing. Li Zhen­hua’s team worked with a pro­fes­sional in­struc­tor for weeks, en­dur­ing the win­ter chill and the sum­mer heat of their lo­cal square to train for a city­wide con­test that cul­mi­nated in Au­gust.

Her team, drawn mostly from China’s eth­nic Korean mi­nor­ity, took the ti­tle with their tra­di­tional Korean dances, beat­ing 750 other troupes.

“I was de­lighted to find a Korean team in Shang­hai, not only to ex­er­cise and dance but also to pass on our cul­ture,” Li said.

‘Sil­ver’ econ­omy

Mass pub­lic danc­ing took root af­ter 1949. But it has re­ally taken off lately as an in­creas­ingly pros­per­ous China finds more leisure time.

Nearly every neigh­bor­hood park or square to­day is en­livened by dancers avail­ing them­selves of free ex­er­cise rou­tines.

Taobao and other busi­nesses are ex­pressly tar­get­ing the new mar­ket to sell cloth­ing, speak­ers and gad­gets for watch­ing and learn­ing new dances.

Sales are ex­cel­lent and every mar­ket study con­firms that the in­dus­try is boom­ing.

Han Xiaoyuan, 28, is the founder of a mo­bile app for or­ga­niz­ing com­pe­ti­tions and pur­chas­ing gear. User num­bers have in­creased five-fold over the past two years and now num­ber more than 500,000.

Han is just one of the many en­trepreneurs com­ing up with busi­ness ini­tia­tives aimed at

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