Square dancing (guangchangwu), group dancing in open squares, parks or other public spaces is a common pastime for many middle-aged and retired folk in Shanghai and many other cities in China. You know you are likely near a square dancing session from the sound of loud reverberating music playing in the air as dancers turn on amplified music to accompany their dances. The dancers perform traditional folk dances or set routines to the accompaniment of traditional, pop, or patriotic tunes. Dancers typically gather either early in the morning or in the evening to dance for about an hour or so.
Square dancing plays an important part in the daily life for many retired and senior citizens, especially those whose children no longer live with them or work in different cities. It gives them the opportunity to be active and socialize, which keeps them in good physical health as well as spiritual and mental well-being.
According to a recent report, as many as 100 million people, mostly women in their 50s and 60s, take part in square dancing. Square dancing caught on in the 1980s and ’90s partly as a way to stay healthy after the state health-care system deteriorated under new reforms. For the older Chinese, its also the appeal of preserving a sense of Mao-era collectivism at a time when old established neighborhoods have been dismantled to make way for modern urban high-rise living.
For all the good that square dancing brings, nonetheless there are unhappy citizens frustrated with the loud music, who complain the noise makes relaxing after work hard and, worse, disturbs their children’s studies. Calls to control public dancing is threatening a nouveau Chinese culture that has wide appeal among members of the country’s rapidly growing elderly population. It is doubtful though if there is actual political will to curb it as (i) there is an ingrained genuine respect for the elderly within Chinese culture and (ii) it’s a healthy pastime.
Photos: Fuji X-E2 with XF 18-55mm