Strictly square dancing

Updated: 2015-03-31 07:18

By Chen Nan(China Dailyi)

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Strictly square dancing

Dancers at a park in Beijing wear clothes inspired by military uniforms. Square dancers attract crowds of spectators by wearing colorful costumes and choreographing their own steps. [Zou Hong / China Daily]

Day and night across China, groups of middle-aged, retirees, mostly women, gather together to dance in open spaces, such as parks and public squares. They are known as guang chang wu da ma, or "public square dance older ladies", as literally translated. Their passion for square dancing has made them a national phenomenon but they are also a source of controversy, with complaints that their music is too loud, they occupy too much public space and they occasionally use inappropriate venues-such as the square in front of the Louvre in Paris, where Chinese tourists broke into a dance last year.

But controversy aside, the dancers are only growing in number and style. Some groups of dancers have even begun to attract crowds of spectators by wearing colorful, flamboyant costumes and choreographing their own steps in distinctive styles.

Some of the dancers have made headlines, such as the group of older women who donned military uniforms, held toy guns and danced like soldiers to patriotic songs in a square in front of a shopping mall near Dongzhimen, downtown Beijing recently.

Li Dong, 46, is a pioneer in this field. Every day from 9 am to 11:30 am, she leads a group of amateur dancers at the north gate of Tao Ran Ting, a park near the South Second Ring Road in Beijing. They wear camouflage T-shirts, navy blue shorts and fishnet stockings. Their moves mix elements of jazz, Latin and swing dance and each routine has been choreographed by Li.

"In addition to keeping fit, square dancing has become so popular so quickly because older people who are free from work and from raising children want to be connected with one another. But I think that square dancing has a deeper meaning," says Li.

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