Square dancing or 广场舞 (guǎngchǎng wǔ) is an exercise routine set to music staged in public areas – kind of like public jazzercise. Despite originating among middle-aged aunties, it has become a very popular form of exercise for young and old alike.
Square dancing is named as such because it is performed in a public square. It began in the mid-1990s, where middle-aged, retired women would meet up in parks or plazas after dinner and choreograph group dances to popular '50s and '60s era songs. Dancers line up in rows. The most proficient dancers stand in front, so dancers in the back can follow their lead. The women used these gatherings to stay fit, relieve boredom and socialize.
Square dancing has only grown since then. There are now over 180 million practitioners throughout mainland China according to China’s General Administration of Sport. Square dancing teams have formed, with some teams having over 80 members. The music selections have widened to include not only traditional and pop music, but also waltz, ballroom and samba music.
Teams have even traveled abroad together, and they have been spotted dancing in Paris, Moscow and New York.
Nowadays, dancers can participate in competitions like the “Looking for China’s Most Beautiful Queen of Square Dancing” competition, which had over 35,000 participants last year. Teams buy uniforms for competitions, and they can also use props like fans or scarves, such as these teams competing in Yunnan in 2016.
As a testament to its popularity, Square Dancing was added to the list of sports in China’s most recent National Games in 2017.
Want to learn Square Dancing? The app Tangdou has videos of tutorials and a feature to connect dancers living near each other in China. Also, check out this video from a Chinese TV show of a Square Dancing routine, with a breakdown of the steps at the end. Have fun!