- Gordon Dumoulin
Square Dance Grannies, ruling the streets in the China nights | DIFFERENT CHINA (ep 3)
100 million dancers daily gathering in the Chinese parks and squares every evening
Parks and squares have been prime spots for Chinese people since ages to gather socially, dance, exercise, sing, play music, play cards or chess in the evenings. Square dancing or Guang Chang Wu has been very popular among these activities.
Today, there are over 100 million square dancers throughout China of which the majority are middle-aged and senior females although more and more senior males are to be seen in the large groups of female dancers. Of the estimated 229 million senior citizens (those aged 60 and above), about three in every 10 people enjoy the daily evening activity to stay fit and gather socially.
Square dancing has since long times been a popular past-time and simple exercise routine to improve health among the China's elderly and middle-aged generation but in recent years square dancing has turned into a trendy fashion folk dancing attracting lots of attention in various media but also controversies regarding their impact in society.
Any kinds of weathers and seasons are overcome for square dancing and more and more youngsters and males also get involved in the hype of square dancing.
A thriving tech innovative business worth USD 150 billion
Chinese square dancing is not just a convenient and pleasant way for older people to socialize and exercise, it is an industry worth USD 150 billion driven by tech and digital innovation aimed at the active 100 million senior population who have mostly been left out of the technological booms in the recent decade. The business have already embraced them as DaMa (大妈), the dancing aunties.
A great portion of the industry belongs to online retail. To complement DaMa’s performances with costumes and props, many middle-aged dancing queens are pestering younger members of the family to teach them online shopping for square dancing-related items such as loudspeakers and costumes.
Companies are quick to respond to and stimulate their needs, designing products such as “intelligent dancing solutions”, for example, directional loudspeakers which limit sound to a certain area or simple tablets for the not so tech-savvy to watch famous square dance performances and Chinese operas for the not so tech-savvy.
But the biggest business push is coming from apps such as Tangdou (糖豆), the “Tinder of square dancing”. Tangdou currently boasts 100 million users and has received US$ 20 million in its latest round of financing completed in October 2016. According to its CEO Zhang Yuan, the company owes its success to a deep obsession with dancing combined with the country’s explosion in smartphones.
Fang notes that the penetration rate of smartphones is surprisingly high among the middle-aged and aged Chinese. Many of them were drawn to social apps like WeChat by “chicken soup for the soul” articles about keeping fit and becoming successful.
The square dancing frenzy has enabled companies like Tangdou, Jiuai (就爱) to tap into the geriatric market by gathering them on their video/social media platform and turning it into a marketing channel. Healthcare products, financial products, real estate, travel; all these industries are cashing into the rhythm of square dancing by organizing competitions and other offline events.
Chinese television channels have also jumped into the hype of square dancing by broadcasting large shows in which different square dance groups go into various kinds of competition. Square dancing has even been included in the China national games event.
Square Dancing in China; controversies and nuisance
Although square dancing is enjoying a hype, the “dancing grannies” have sparked as well fierce debates in urban areas, where they are seen by younger people as a strongly annoying nuisance for their spreading out across public places, blasting their music out loudly. The grannies have been a point of tension for the past couple of years in several cities with some irritations and disputes.
The General Administration of Sport’s Mass Fitness Department in China has made regulations on permissible dancing times and maximum music volumes.
Dancing aunties in Beijing also took action themselves by starting to use radio-equipped headphones, allowing them to square dance in silence. Now dozens of elderly women in matching red and yellow outfits can be seen swaying their bodies in perfect synchrony to music only they can hear. They seamlessly go from one move to the next without breaking a sweat, and without breaking the silence in 11 communities in Beijing’s northwest where this technical solution has been deployed.
A possibly scary but certainly intriguing image in Beijing’s parks at night, a group of elderly ladies dancing and smiling in perfect harmony… and perfect SILENCE. As a bonus, you will have the dancing shadows as parks or squares are often not very well illuminated. There are not many other images which would reflect a more true China today.
“Different CHINA” is a series telling different sides of China which are lesser known to the world. China is well known through many publications for its miraculous speed of developments and growth in technology, environment, commerce, social structures and international standing with Chinese people embracing innovation while keeping tradition highly valued. But this image does not do full justice as China is so much more in its diversity, culture, environment, people and initiatives. “Different CHINA” is part of 5iZ.