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Mar 15, 2017

Square dancing the early evening away is a quintessential hobby for countless Chinese retirees. But while getting their social exercise on, they’re sometimes a nuisance to peace and quiet-loving neighbors.

Fortunately, Beijing’s community workers — low-level, semi-governmental employees — may have found a solution: They’ve outfitted the neighborhood cohorts of “dancing grannies” with 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, local newspaper Beijing Daily reported Monday. They seamlessly go from one move to the next without breaking a sweat, and without breaking the silence in the 11 communities in the city’s northwest where this technical solution has been deployed.

“Regardless of whether it’s students preparing for their university entrance exam, workers on the night shift, or women who just gave birth, none of them want noise,” Sun Renping, the 75-year-old leader of one dance group, told Beijing Daily. “We tried to lower the volume, but we couldn’t hear it ourselves.” The dancing seniors also tried to move their gathering to a nearby square, but it was too far of a commute for some of the group’s older members.

To solve the problem, community workers turned to a manufacturer in Guangdong province, southern China, that produces headphones specifically for dancing grannies. Much like so-called silent discos, users receive a wireless signal from a music player, allowing everyone to listen to the same song in silence. All the headphones are labeled with the names of their owners, and are being cared for by the community workers so they won’t go missing, the report said.

Sun said that before this development, the music caused neighbors to get so angry they even threw things out of their windows in protest. Such complaints are common in urban China, where open space is scarce. In February, the Beijing municipal government announced regulations stipulating that dancing grannies may face punishment if their evening antics disturb other people.

Though many net users applauded the innovative solution, one commenter just couldn’t picture the scene: “In the night, a group of old women are smiling and dancing in silence — isn’t that scary?”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: ‘Dancing grannies’ wear headphones while exercising to limit noise, Guiyang, Guizhou province, July 31, 2014. Qiu Ci/VCG)