Street Life: City that dances the night away

ZHENGZHOU

IT WAS 8pm on a late autumn evening in Zhengzhou. In the square in front of the former museum of this inland provincial capital, crowdswere gathering for their nightly "al fresco" waltz or perhaps the "32-step" mass synchronised dance routine.

Nearby, in the shadows of the People's Meeting Hall, about 80 people were lined up for a beginners' class in the tango, while more than 200 others glided gracefully across an empty concrete parking area. The romance was blighted only by the traffic on a flyover.

Ask a Zhengzhou resident what to do of an evening, and they are likely to suggest a spot of outdoor dancing. Many Chinese cities have dancing in the parks, but Zhengzhou seems to have it on every street corner. From a 17-year-old female medical student to a 71-year-old retired man, they roll up outside the museum. Every night.

Nearly 4,000 years ago, this region was the cradle of Chinese civilisation at the start of the Shang dynasty. These days, Zhengzhou is best known as a sprawling inland industrial transport hub. Its ailing state industries have shed hundreds of thousands of employees who now vie for work with waves of migrant workers.

Like all Chinese cities, Zhengzhou also has its new rich, catered for by expensive seafood restaurants and fancy karaoke clubs. But it is the night-time dancing which is within everyone's reach - at just 1 yuan (8 pence) entrance fee or around 6 yuan (50p) for a monthly ticket.

No one is quite sure why Zhengzhou is gripped by this craze, which residents say has grown in popularity since the late 1980s. But for many people it is now a daily fixture in their lives.

"She's the most skilful," said 42-year-old Gao Xiuying, a scientific researcher, pointing at a middle-aged woman in a red sweater. "If she does not come, the synchronised dancing is disorganised. She usually comes every night."

Chai Mengyue, whose given name translates as Dream of the Moon, did indeed have a level of co-ordination that most of the others lacked. The 51-year- old retired textile worker had thus been cast in the role of unpaid "dance teacher by obligation", said Mr Gao.

"I'm an amateur teacher," said Ms Chai. "I had to take early retirement at 48. Before that I did not have time for dancing."

Just three years ago, one quarter of Zhengzhou's workforce was in the loss-making textile industry, a sector which throughout China is currently slashing its workforce. In her new life, Ms Chai is mistress of the dance on the west side of the square, where those who favour the individual synchronised dancing followed her repeated routines - again, and again and again. "It's popular as a spare-time hobby and for exercise," she said.

On a busy night, the museum venue attracted 700 people, said the ticket- seller. She was employed by the museum's trade union branch. The museum work unit still owned the building and was putting it to use as profitably as it could.

So why was dancing so popular in Zhengzhou? "People want to make a more colourful life, especially older women," she said.

But it was the men of Zhengzhou who were the most anxious to improve their dancing skills, it turned out. At the official dancing school run by Qi Duozhen, the "senior dance coach", the number of men noticeably outnumbered women, and women were being offered a 50 per cent discount to enroll.

"Since people's living conditions are improved, they would like to improve their spiritual lives," said Ms Qi, as another teacher, in heels and a sequined red skirt, brought tango to the masses.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss