Square dancing runs circles around other hobbies for China's elderly

Fri May 1, 2015 3:01pm EDT
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By Sabrina Mao

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese-style square dancing is running circles around other hobbies for the elderly, with millions taking to parks and plazas across China, swiveling their hips and rolling their arms - but it's not to everyone's liking.

Every evening through the year, hundreds of grannies gather on a large square outside the Master Centre in west Beijing to dance with their instructor, who puts them through the motions of side steps and rotations to help them keep fit and, in the bitter winters, to keep warm.

"There are several benefits," said Yan Fuzhi, 71, who has been dancing on the square for five years. "First off, it helps me lose weight. Secondly, it's good for my health and it gets rid of bad habits...

"I used to sit watching TV, which is bad for my heart and causes high blood pressure. But I'm really happy when I dance, listening to the music, chatting and laughing. All my problems go away."

But it's that music, pop from the present and decades ago blasted out of tinny speakers, that is the problem for many residents, who complain they can't get to sleep at night because of the racket. But the grannies have nowhere else to go.

"There are definitely objections against square dancing. Some people don't like dancing and see it as a disturbance," said 78-year-old Zhang Lianmeng.

"I think our country should encourage it as long as they can make appropriate arrangements and make sure they do it in appropriate places."

Instructor Fan Tiemin, 55, said his group was the biggest in Beijing, with around 500 dancers each evening - sometimes more than a thousand, depending on the weather. Xinhua news agency said more than 100 million were involved nationwide.   Continued...

Seventy-nine-year-old Wang Baorong (C), dressed in military style clothes, and other participants perform square dancing at a park square in Beijing, China, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon