Dancing in Brooklyn leads to noise complaints

Updated: 2013-08-14 10:51

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is now New York's largest Chinatown, with a 71 percent increase of Chinese residents from 2000 to 34,218 in 2010.

And one of the popular activities among the Chinese residents in the area is going outside in the morning and waist-drum dancing, which is also popular in Ansai county in northwest China's Shaanxi province. It is a unique, large-scale folk dance with a history of more than two millennia. The dance is lively and traditionally integrates dance, song, martial arts and gymnastics.

But for some in Sunset Park, the music accompanying those doing the dance is nothing less than noise - obnoxious and objectionable noise. And it has caused confrontations between dancers and police.

It started in late June when police were called to the park in response to multiple noise complaints. What the officers found was a group of women rehearsing the dance. And what they did was arrest the group's choreographer and leader, a 60-year-old woman known by the surname Wang. In court, she was found guilty of making excessive noise in the park.

Wang said she and her group worked consciously to lower their noise level during their rehearsals to avoid more trouble, according to a report by the China Press, a daily and online Chinese-language newspaper.

The group continued meeting regularly at the park to prepare for the annual National Night Out - "America's Night Out Against Crime" - a community gathering on Aug 6 - at the local police station, which had invited the troupe to perform its waist-drum dance.

But on July 27 once again there were noise complaints and the police. Around 10 am, before the group had begun its rehearsal, the police returned and arrested Wang for the second time.

The first arrest, Wang said in a story in China Press, she could understand, but she said she could not understand why she was arrested a second time. She said she believed the police were guilty of ethnic discrimination.

Wang said her troupe had trouble communicating in English and that no Chinese-speaking police officers were present to help, making the situation confusing, according to the China Press.

Neither the local police nor Wang could be reached for comment.

"The question is: is it music or is it noise?" said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Manhattan-based Chinatown Partnership.

Chen cited another noise complaint incident that occurred in Columbus Park in Manhattan's Chinatown in 2011 when a Chinese violinist was arrested in a park.

"The cops basically dragged the person out," Chen said. "It created a major uproar."

An 89-second-long YouTube video titled New York Police Arrest Elderly Man in Chinatown for Playing Violin shows three police officers pinning down a Chinese man to the ground to handcuff him while additional officers cordon off elderly Chinese protesters.

Although the confrontation remained mostly non-violent, the musician's face was bloodied, protesters were threatened with Mace and some pushing and whacking by a policeman was involved, the video shows.

Chen said he is still focused on defending and resolving the conflict over the Columbus Park incident.

"I think that [determining what is music versus noise] is something that requires an understanding and appreciation of what is culture and what is not culture," Chen said. "It requires a discussion on the cultural differences in how you use a public space and what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable behavior."


(China Daily USA 08/14/2013 page2)