Govt develops recommended routines for ‘square dancing’ in public spaces

By Chen Heying Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-29 18:58:01

Hundreds of dama dance in Qingdao, Shandong Province on January 18. Photo: CFP

Squares, parks and public spaces of all kinds have been filled with dancing middle-aged and elderly people, mostly women, for several years. While these people have been "square dancing" for fun, the government has begun to encourage them to stay fit.

The dancers, known in Chinese as dama, have become known worldwide for their group dancing. In April 2014, photos posted on Sina Weibo showed dama in the square of Paris's Louvre Museum, which attracted global attention. Two months later, Red Square in Moscow was also "occupied" by shimmying dama. Their funky antics led to the local police being called to the scene.

China's sports and cultural authorities laid out 12 choreographed dances on March 23 that vary according to how difficult they are to perform, the level of physical fitness needed and the kinds of music they pair well with, said Liu Guoyong, head of the Sport for All department of State General Administration of Sports (GAS).

The GAS and the Ministry of Culture jointly rolled out the 12 drills. Each features a certain amount of exercise, down-to-earth music as well as simple gestures that aim to "spread positive energy," the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The number of people dancing in squares regularly is estimated to be around 150 million in China, Xinhua reported. Aside from the dama, more and more men and young people are heading to the country's parks to put their moves on display.

However, many people have wondered why the government feels the need to become involved in square dancing at all.

A new attempt

The sports and cultural authorities asked an expert panel, including dancers and fitness trainers, to choreograph the 12 public dance routines.

"We have selected folk music, Latin dance music, and catchy pop tunes to accompany the dances," Wang Guangcheng, a fitness instructor who was on the expert panel, told the Global Times.

Dances set to ubiquitous pop favorites such as "Little Apple" and "Coolest Ethnic Trend," will hopefully pique the interest of dama as they often choose to dance to these songs, Wang said.

"The strange and inelegant gestures when I've arranged square dances have been replaced with more conventional and standard ones in the officially recommended fitness dances," said Wang, who led 99 people in a dance routine in New York's Times Square last December.

In a video clip uploaded in 2014, Wang and his female dancing partner shake their chests face to face, while in the latest official version, highly rhythmic movements like arm-waving and head-bobbing are repeatedly seen.

Wang explained that the workouts focus more on exercises than on low-key dances, in order to build up dancers' bodies. Up to 60 kilocalories can be burnt during a 5-minute dance, he noted.

In addition, these exercises are safe and easy for beginners to learn because they are scientifically designed and only contain a few gestures, Wang said, explaining that about 15 gestures were abandoned in the editing process and only five to eight gestures are included in the latest drills.

Some popular dances were designed by dama who may lack the professional fitness knowledge needed to choreograph safe drills, according to the sports authorities.

"Repeated squats, for example, will injure people's knees," Wang said.

"In each of the 12 drills, a dancer's head, shoulders, hands, waist and back can receive exercises step by step," Ma Tiantian, a dance teacher with the Dongcheng district fitness dance association in Beijing, who was involved in choreographing two official dance routines, told the Global Times.

The sports and cultural authorities have launched a 5-month campaign to promote the 12 dances across the country by training local dance leaders in six cities and provinces, including Beijing, Heilongjiang and Guangdong, and holding performances nationwide.

Although the GAS has not detailed its promotion plan at the community level, local governments are likely to train the officially registered exercise instructors and cooperate with dance associations, Zhang Zhaohui, a department head at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports, told the Global Times.

Controversy grows

The officially sanctioned dance routines have come under scrutiny with some worrying that dancers will only be allowed to use the 12 routines in future.

But Liu denied this speculation, saying that the time when all Chinese people were forced to dance to the same tune has passed.

An anonymous publicity official of the GAS stated that the role of these routines is to guide and recommend scientific dancing exercises, not to regulate the activity. "It is impossible for a national-level sports government agency to regulate groups of dancers scattered in every small communities," he told the Global Times.

"The dancers have the final say. If the drills are bad, they will hardly be used even if we want them to be," Zhang said.

However, even though the set of dances is just a proposal, many groovy dama have already rejected them.

"I will never learn those dances, they are like the mechanical morning exercises students do in schools, instead of elegant dances," a jiving dama surnamed Chang in her 60s told the Global Times.

Moreover, the grannies complained that the authorities are not helping reduce the public frictions around their favorite pastime. These frictions include conflicts between dama gangs and local residents and the lack of dedicated dancing venues.

Many residents grumble about the public dancing and the loud music that goes along with it, which can be obnoxious. In Wuhan, Hubei Province, a group of dama were sprayed with urine and excrement in 2013 for dancing near residential buildings and making noise at night, the Wuhan Evening News reported.

Liu said the GAS, as well as the ministries of civil affairs and culture, plan to assign venues for public dancing in community-run fitness centers and will require centers to prepare a timetable that is free of conflicts for this activity, news portal reported.
Newspaper headline: Dama dance drills

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