Government Asks Square Dancers to Sidestep Solemn Spaces
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2017-11-14 11:39:19

China’s elderly square dancers should steer clear of cemeteries and refrain from spreading superstitious beliefs, China’s top sports authority announced Monday.

The General Administration of Sport posted to its website an array of measures aimed at both restricting and advancing square dancing in China’s urban communities.

Square dancing is a popular pastime for many middle-aged and elderly Chinese, who congregate in parks and plazas at dusk to dance the night away in meticulously choreographed synchrony. But the phenomenon has also led to conflicts over noise pollution and contested turf.

“There are still problems like inadequate space, too much noise, and poor management for square dance as an exercise,” reads the notice, citing a similar previous regulation that went into effect in 2015.

But this year’s regulation goes into greater detail than its years-old counterpart, urging sports bureaus at all levels of government to allocate more exercise space, facilitate relationships between square dancers and their surrounding neighborhoods, and train more professional dancing groups.

In addition to such promotional measures, the new guidelines also include restrictions. “Square dancing should not take place in solemn areas like cemeteries for revolutionary martyrs,” the notice reads. Furthermore, “participants should not collect money illegally, or spread feudal or superstitious ideas through exercise.”

Along with walking, square dancing has become one of the most popular forms of exercise among people over age 50. However, controversies have increased along with the activity’s popularity.

In May, basketball players clashed with a group of elderly square dancers in central China’s Henan province: The young men fruitlessly tried to persuade their elders that basketball courts are for dribbling, not dancing. The incident led to heated online discussion, with some netizens criticizing the elderly dancers for being unreasonable and entitled.

Guo Bin, a researcher at the China Institute for Sports Value at Peking University in Beijing, believes this conflict reflects a greater need to upgrade sports facilities around the country.

“China has initiated a nationwide fitness campaign, but multipurpose athletic space remains limited,” Guo told Sixth Tone. “Considering the prevalence of square dancing, it should be given priority.” A government report released in December 2014 showed that the average amount of recreational space per person in China is 1.46 square meters — less than one-tenth the corresponding figure in the U.S.

Regulating the development of square dancing, Guo added, will be beneficial to the quality of life of the country’s senior citizens. “Square dancing helps relieve problems like loneliness,” he explained.

By the end of 2015, there were 222 million people in China aged 60 or over, accounting for 16 percent of the country’s population. The elderly are becoming increasingly visible in urban communities, whether they’re square dancing, playing mahjong, or singing karaoke.

“As a society, we should respect the elderly and show them more care and tolerance,” Guo concluded. For now at least, state policy seems to agree with this sentiment — provided the young at heart dance within the lines.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Women holding toy guns perform a revolutionary song-and-dance routine during their daily exercises in a plaza outside a shopping mall in Beijing, June 29, 2014. Jason Lee/Reuters/VCG)