Getting light on their feet

By Cao Chen in Shanghai | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-12-01 11:11

While China does not have an official national sport, many would point to it being table tennis. Those among the elderly population, however, would likely point to something else - square dancing.

According to official statistics, there are presently more than 120 million Chinese who regularly do square dancing.

The activity, which is mostly performed by senior citizens, has become such a popular pastime that it was included in the 13th National Games in August in Tianjin.

Square dancing started to gain popularity in the mid-1990s when groups gathered at public spaces to dance in the mornings and evenings. Most of these individuals were, and still are, middle-aged and elderly who are in search of new friends and activities to keep themselves occupied.

"Square dancing allows us to turn our focus away from negative emotions," said Wang Li, a 48-year-old Shanghai native who regularly dances. "It is also the best way for middle-aged and elderly people to expand our social circles and prevent loneliness."

The popularity of square dancing received a boost ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics when authorities embarked on a drive to promote national fitness activities to generate hype for the mega sporting event.

The advancement of technology also helped to increase the visibility of square dancing. In 2010, videos of people square dancing to popular tunes in the country, such as Little Apple by Chopstick Brothers, started to flood Chinese social media sites.

During this period, many dancers choreographed their own routines before recording instructional videos that were shared on the internet. According to a report by the Chinese Square Dance Industry, some of these clips even received tens of millions of views.

Even authorities were keen to get involved. In 2015, four ministerial-level departments, including the Ministry of Culture and the General Administration of Sport in China, released 12 government-approved dance routines.

However, this popular pastime often created controversy. In June, one conflict involving a group of elderly square dancers and young basketball players in Luoyang city, Henan province, went viral on the internet.

To tackle the issue of public nuisance, the central government granted subsidies of 870 million yuan ($131.4 million) to 1,212 sports venues around the country in 2015 to ensure they maintain free or low-cost spaces for square dancers.

In June, authorities introduced a special set of audio equipment for dancers that help to reduce noise levels. These directional loudspeakers limit the transmission of sound waves so the music being played can only be heard by those within a certain space.

In November, the General Administration of Sport released a regulation to address the issue of land management.

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