In Regulating Outdoor Dancing, China Tells Seniors How To Bust A Move

Mar 27, 2015
Originally published on March 27, 2015 8:07 pm

China's sports bureaucracy threatened this week to standardize dancing in public squares. Government committees have for decades drafted standardized eye exercises for squinting school children, calisthenics for office workers and Tai Chi routines for retirees.

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It's a common sight in China's cities - rows of retirees dancing to amplified music playing in public squares and plazas. China's government sparked a minor controversy this week with plans to impose standards on people's dance moves. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: On a Thursday night, there are three separate groups of residents exercising on the same plaza outside a downtown shopping mall. Yo Fong (ph), in her 50s, is the leader of one group whose boom box is provided by the local government.

YO FONG: (Through interpreter) We've met many sisters and many friends through dancing. I'm proud that our team members, whose average age is 60, are so cheerful.

KUHN: The State Sports Administration announced this week that in future, residents will all dance to the same 12 government-sanctioned routines. Some Internet users shot back that they don't need bureaucrats homogenizing their hoedowns. The government later clarified that the routines are voluntary and will not be enforced. Yo Fong says that they might even use the state-designated moves.

FONG: (Through interpreter) We're just organizing this dancing by ourselves. As long as it's good exercise, the state doesn't need to interfere with it too much.

KUHN: In the group next to Yo, dancers gracefully twirl balls on paddles.


KUHN: "Now we begin the second designated routine for Beijing's soft power ball exercises," says the recording. The group's leader, 66-year-old Fan Yinhua (ph), says these exercises help prevent everything from creaky joints to senile dementia.

FAN YINHUA: (Through interpreter) Standardizing dancing in public places is good for the people's health. Of course, we also have to prevent noise pollution.

KUHN: The dancers' blaring music occasionally causes frictions with neighbors. The Sports Administration's plan offers no solution for this particular problem.


KUHN: Standardized group exercises are everywhere in China. Just visit a school and you'll see kids massaging their eyes in unison to music in between classes. Office workers take group calisthenic breaks outside their companies. These are a holdover from the Maoist era, when workers' lives were regimented around their work units. But Chinese society today is more individualistic and it seems unlikely that anyone can force dance steps into lockstep. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.