‘Dancing Grannies’ Go From Park Plazas to National Podium
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2017-07-19 12:42:40

China’s most skilled “dancing grannies” — the millions of mostly elderly women whose favorite evening pastime is square dancing — are about to be famous.

Organizers of the country’s national square dancing competition announced Tuesday that the sport will be included as a “mass event” at China’s 13th National Games, to be held later this year in the northern port city of Tianjin, according to Beijing paper Legal Evening News.

But unlike the other events, participants will not compete against one another for medals. Instead, the public will have a chance to pick their favorite groups in an online voting process, after which a committee will select the best teams to display their skills at the games’ opening ceremony on Aug. 27.

Lu Die, a 58-year-old from Shanghai who has been dancing for seven years, said inclusion in the National Games is an “interesting idea,” and that her dancing group may participate.

“We’re a pretty informal group,” Lu told Sixth Tone. “We’ve competed before, but often we don’t have the time. We’re all aunties and grandmothers with children to take care of.”

Since the announcement, more than a hundred square-dancing groups have submitted video applications showcasing their talents. Wang Fuhang, who works in the department responsible for screening and judging teams for the National Games, told Sixth Tone that the selection committee will be looking for “diverse teams with contemporary attitudes.”

The inclusion of square dancing in the country-level competitions is a part of the broader reform that aims to give so-called grassroots athletes more visibility and recognition. “Mass participation is a big innovation during this year’s National Games,” said Chen Zhemin, deputy director of the organizing committee, during a press conference in March.

Square dancing is common all over China for the social and health benefits it offers. As dusk falls, middle-aged and elderly men and women occupy neighborhood parks and plazas, moving as one to choreographed dance routines.

The groups’ loud music and sometimes territorial nature can lead to complaints, and even conflict. Some communities have started providing silent disco-like solutions so dancers can listen to music without being noisy.

Additional reporting: Savannah Billman; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Residents dance in a city plaza in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, Aug. 3, 2014. VCG)