China Blog: Dancing Grannies raise a ruckus

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Media captionThe BBC's Beijing team often stumble upon a Guang Chang Wu - roughly translated as 'Public Square Dance'.

Night and day across this vast country, in any open space where city folk have easy access, dozens, even perhaps hundreds of people, most of whom are women, lose themselves in a fury of dance.

Whether it's waltzing, line-dancing, rock n' roll style jigging, or just free-style bumping and grinding, the dancers have at least two things in common: no one is usually aged much below 45, and the music is loud enough to blow out an eardrum. They are called the Dancing Grannies. And their passion is for the Guang Chang Wu, roughly translated as Public Square Dance.

In fact, in a country where space comes at a premium, this passion has become a flashpoint on several fronts. Amongst dancers there is the fight for the dance floor. Getting the top spot means getting the most dancers. So whether it is firing up the music at an ungodly hour, or blocking off parking spaces, or just getting mouthy with rival groups, there is nothing they would not do to lay claim to their patch.

Nor is the hunt for a dance floor confined to public parks. In fact, any piece of land is fair game - downstairs in an apartment block or even the entrance to the town library. For most Chinese, living in small apartments with no gardens to speak of, this has become more than just the avoidable nuisance in the park.

Image caption Even though the music is decidedly ear-splitting, imposing appropriate penalties remains a challenge

It's in your face, in your ears, in fact, right bang in your home. One man bouncing his infant daughter says he fears the first words she will speak are the saccharine lyrics that waft in daily through the walls and windows. Another worries about the health of his pregnant wife, who says she is just unable to rest due to the constant blare of The Beautiful Rainbow Fills My Heart.

'Public nuisance'

The thing is, there is nothing that can be done. There are regulations - a list of them apparently - that outline what counts as appropriate behaviour in specific public arenas. You are creating a "public nuisance" if the noise you make exceeds a certain number of decibels.

Stand amidst the Dancing Grannies and you know that however you measure it, you are mired in what is no doubt a public nuisance. But exactly how many decibels and what one should measure it with remains unclear. The absence of clarity means no authority can intervene with a legitimate penalty.

Regulations also designate authorities responsible for specific misdemeanours in specific areas. But when push comes to shove, no authority is prepared to get heavy-handed with a bunch of retirees who are just out to have a good time in the only way they say is available to them.

It's a different story unofficially. Wuhan residents made headlines in the last few months after they showered faeces on a group of boisterous Dancing Grannies. Just weeks ago, a man in Beijing unleashed three Tibetan Mastiffs before firing a rifle into the air.

All to no avail. The dancers returned with a vengeance, turning up the volume in a gesture of defiance.

You could say it is a conflict of lifestyle and expression. The Dancing Grannies grew up in an era of revolutionary song and dance. The music was loud and passions ran high.

Image caption Most dancers of the Public Square Dance tend to be women

No one danced alone at the birth of communal, Communist China. So it's no surprise that halfway around the world, Dancing Grannies raised a ruckus at Sunset Park in Brooklyn, New York, in August, angering locals and prompting police arrests.

Clearly for New Yorkers and perhaps increasingly for younger, urban Chinese, making a public and disruptive display of yourself is not just irritatingly anti-social. It's illegal. And violating the peace carries with it legal consequences.

But as they say, they do and see things differently in China. There is a genuine respect for the elderly and a reluctance to curb what is essentially - if they would just tone it down - a healthy pastime.

Plus, with the Global Times recently putting the number of what they called "square dancers" at 100 million people, which authority would have the gall to take on 100 million Dancing Grannies?

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