Ghost Street, Beijing’s liveliest food neighbourhood, is famous for ferociously spicy cuisine and raucous clientele. It’s also home to troupes of chanting restaurant employees who line dance as part of their daily routine.

It’s not uncommon in Chinese cities to see large groups of uniformed workers lined up on the pavement outside restaurants, hair salons or real estate offices, receiving loud orders and shouting slogans. Add to the mix a cultural obsession with line dance – known as ‘square dancing’ in China – and you get an unusual new approach to staff motivation.

Twice a day between shifts – when the weather allows – the entire staff of hotpot restaurant Spice Village file onto the pavement in their eccentric period costume for a meeting, before gyrating for 20 minutes to thumping electronic dance music. A few doors down, the staff at Zai Zai, a spicy crayfish chain, also dance, in plain uniform and to more conventional routines. The unofficial rivalry has encouraged other businesses along the street to follow suit.

Beijing’s chilly winter makes street dancing impossible; there are no dancers to see between November and March, but with spring just around the corner, workers at Spice Village and Zai Zai are preparing to go back out on the tiles.

The managers at both restaurants say dancing increases fitness, boosts energy levels and improves cohesion – team building, essentially, although all workers are required to dance, no matter how reluctant or clumsy they might be.

Max Duncan filmed this story last year. This is the first story in our Why We Work series, a look at the complex motivations that dominate our working lives.

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