As daylight fades, small armies of middle aged and elderly ladies emerge from their apartment blocks to congregate in their communal square, a public space, or even in corners of an underground parking garages when met with inclement weather.
A stereo cassette player, a bluetooth connected boombox, or even portable screening equipment is set up by the dancer in chief. Everybody lines up, the music starts, and then come the dance moves, usually following a lead at the front.
The routines aren’t physically demanding, but they give people the chance and motivation to exercise all four limbs for about an hour or two.
There are not many other parallels to be drawn between line dancing in China, and the American style variety I was familiar with as a youth.
While line dance moves in the West are typically more vigorous, and people dance to catchy pulsating songs in specialised public venues, the Chinese version is invariably far more casual, low key and mundane in most aspects.
You will see that most, if not all of the participants are women, but these events are not strictly female only, but the gender dominance usually means that men usually choose to sit aside and mind their own business.
On occasions, you will find they dress in uniform red costume, as they sometimes arrange to perform at public events, like competitions or public holiday entertainment. Normally though, the ladies come and dance in their usual evening attire.
The local Chongqing TV Station do in fact hold televised municipality wide competitions, and groups of women do go to great effort to design intricate traditional costumes and choreographed routines, with prizes on offer to the best performances.
When you pass by, and happen to feel a desire to experience this activity for a few minutes, I doubt anyone would object to you joining in for a bit of fun.
In all my years in Chongqing, the funniest sight was when the ‘Gangnam Style’ song was first released, and it brought me great amusement to see all the old ladies performing the horse riding steps with such accuracy and enthusiasm.
Public line dancing is open to the public, but isn’t entirely free. There is usually a minimal ‘membership fee’ to cover a few basic costs, plus the time and effort spent by the troupe leader. Since most of the women live around in the same neighbourhood, they will usually pay a few tens of Yuan per month to take part.
Chongqing locals are very tolerant to noise, but there have been instances where the speaker volume was too high, and enthusiasm continued late into the night, causing some disturbance to people wanting to sleep, especially those who have homes directly overlooking the square from a low floor.
In Chinese, the Mandarin name for this activity is 广场舞(Guang chang wu), like ‘open square dancing.’ In Chongqing, though, it’s more commonly referred to in local dialect as 坝坝舞(Ba ba wu). The Sichuanese word 坝子(Ba zi) just means a small outdoor space, which could be a public square, or just a driveway.
Go outside mid-evening in Chongqing for a walk around the block, and almost odds-on, you will pass one of these line dancing groups. You can sit and watch, mind your own business, or walk past as if they’re not there.
The phenomenon of line dancing is firmly knit into the social fabric of Chongqing!
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