Zhiyuan’s research — Square dance

Chinese Square Dance

Chinese Square dance is a special dancing performance that emphasizes on the exercise routine performed to music. It usually took places in the squares, plazas, and parks of the cities. Its participants are consisting of middle-aged and retired women, whom are called “Da Ma” in China. Dancing “Da Ma” gather together in the early morning and evening to perform the dance movements.


Square dance in the evening

Chinese Square Dance Features

Chinese square dance was derived from the social life, and created by the folk people. In the 1990s, the government constructed many cultural plazas in order to promote the cultural establishment and development. Along with the social development, square culture has become one of major social and cultural components of communities, which leads to the rapid development of the Chinese square dance.

The square dance is collective. It is an art performance with mass participation. The dances are choreographed with group dances. Some dances are performed by dozens of dancers, and others are performed by hundreds of dancers. The square dance is also improvisational. The dance movements have much space for the dancers to add their own steps and movements. The dancing time is flexible, in other words, dancers can dance as long as they want while they can dance for a short time, which depends only on their wills.

The square dance is self-entertained as well. People who participate in the square dance look for expressing themselves freely and obtain the joy from the recognition of audiences. It is important to notice that the dancers are not looking for fame and wealth but the happiness that they can obtain from the dancing group. The square dance is also spontaneous. Many citizens organize the square dance event by themselves and pay for the electronics on their own. Even though there is no standard area for square dance, but the dancing group has all necessary equipment. Some participants study the dance steps online, and others go to the other places to collect materials for the dance choreography.

There are 7 types of square dance. The first one is “Yuanshengtai”, spontaneously performed by citizens in the rural places. It is used to reveal the every aspects of daily life. The second one is “Jiagongwu”, which is an organized square dance based on “Yuanshengtai”. From the emerge of Yan’an Yangge, it has 60 years of history. It keeps the tradition of “Yuanshengtai” dance, while it also embodies the contemporary culture and new dancing steps. The third type is “Xinchuangzuo”, which is more creative. Choreographing the dances is easier since there is less constrains, and the choreographist can incorporate with new music and dance movements into the square dance. The fourth one is “Tagewu”. This type of dance became popular in recent years. Following the high and low pitch and music rhythm, dancers step on each dance movement. This type of dance is simple and elegant, which is good for mid-aged and aged dancers to take practice. The fifth type is “Jixingwu”, which is an improvisational dance. There is no choreographed dance movement, so that people can dance in their own steps. The sixth type is “Jianshenwu”, which is similar to aerobics. It becomes more and more popular since people pay more attention on their health conditions and willing to live in healthier lives. The last type is “Square dance 16 steps”, which is composed of 16 steps in the dance movements, and each 4 steps formed into a group. This type of dance is good for square dance beginners, since it has basic steps and it is easy to learn.

Square Dance from the Past

In general, Chinese square dance has its origin from the past. In 1950s, ballroom dancing became the main entertainment at that time. From central government to local government, everyone was willing to learn ballroom dance. Some waltz songs for group dance become extremely popular since they are fit for lively atmosphere in the society. Meanwhile, radio calisthenics emerged and become one of popular sport exercises for the public. The government choreographed nice sets of radio calisthenics for the public and promoted the radio calisthenics embodied the occupation features, such as ironworker dance, salesman dance and oilman dance. At that time, when the loudspeaker began to play the music, hundreds of worker would dance together.


Student Radio Calisthenics

In the Cultural Revolution, “Zhongziwu” became one of the major cultural activities. People dance with simple steps, pose and gestures that corresponding to the music and lyrics. This type of dance did not require any training, so that it became a mass practice in the cities and rural places. It promoted the collective dance in China, and established the foundation for the contemporary Chinese square dance. In the late 1990s, disco became the youth’s favorite. People were addicted to its quick steps and sexy movements. People could free themselves in such music and express the deepest emotions through the dancing. In the evening, thousands of young people came to Public Park and dance together. The music is so loud that could blow out the eardrum.

By looking at these dance performances, it is important to notice that regardless of the type of dance, they all have a common characteristic of collectiveness. It embodies a mass participation in the event. Such dance gathers people together and united them together. In other words, everyone has the freedom to express himself or herself no matter what social status each one has. The dance also provides a relaxing way for the public to take exercise and entertain themselves.

These dance performances established the development of modern Chinese square dance. The modern Chinese square dance keeps the tradition of dance movements like waltz, Rumba or Cha-Cha or Three-Step, which are the common steps for the ballroom dance. It also inherits from the “Zhongziwu” that it united people together. Square dancers come to the park together, and dance in various groups. The most proficient dancer leads the dance group, and the others follow his or her steps corresponding to the music. The group as a whole forms a small community for each individual, and everyone in the group is bond together with the dancing steps. The square dance keeps the spirit of disco as well. Dancers have the same basic steps for the square dance, but they can also add their own steps into the dance. For the same music, they can have various dance movements. There is no constrain on the dancing and each individual can choose which dance he or she likes to perform. Similar to radio calisthenics, people also use square dance as a physical exercise for their daily life. They enjoy the morning and evening time with dancing and interacting with friends. They move their bodies to accelerate the blood circulation in order to keep healthy.

Aging Society & Urbanization

Combining the old traditions with new features, square dance became such popular dance practice among mid-aged and aged people. Furthermore, there are several reasons for the rapid development of Chinese square dance.

Frist, China became an aging society. From the perspective of demography, aging society is defined as a counter or area that has 65 percent aged people in the whole community. From 1990 to 2000, the age structure of China has changed significantly, where 6.96 percent of community is aged people. In 2007, the percentage of aged people reached 8.10 percent. To 2020, the percentage will be 17.17 percent. As for the developing China, the society is still lack of public service for the aged people. Comparing to their economic life, the loneliness of aged people are easier to be ignored. The “Kongchao” phenomenon becomes more significant. This phenomenon is the result that youth moves to other places to work and live, and they do not have much time to spend with the aged people. More and more aged parents only gets to see their children in the Spring Festival or some other national vacations. Without children’s companion, the loneliness occupies the daily life of aged people.

Second, the rapid urbanization evokes social problems. From 1978 to 2013, the urban population increased from 1.7 hundred million to 7.3 hundred million. The expansion of urbanization and increase of urban population are contradicted to the Chinese history of agricultural society, especially when the space for collective consumption are compressed, the efficiency of urban public service is low, and the separation between the poor and rich. The inburst of external population make challenges of the original residences’ lifestyle, which could result in exhaust and antipathy.

As the result of urbanization, it is hard for aged people to get in touch with friends. The concrete building becomes the barrier that separates people apart. “Do not talk to stranger” becomes a major survival strategy in the city. Living alone in a city of thousands population will exacerbate the feeling of loneliness and depression. In another hand, it is hard for aged people to get in touch with new object, such as cell phones, movies or other communication tools and entertainments in the city. Aged people not only has limited access to the new society, but also has difficulty to get familiar with new object, even some of them are hard to accept new objects or lifestyle. These problems result in the situation that aged people are pushed aside and disconnected with the developing society. They are living in a closed space surrounded by the concrete gates and walls, which makes them impossible to interact with the other people and society.

However, the Chinese square dance is a good solution to those problems. For the external population, they can choose to dance steps of Yangge, while the original city residence can choose the waltz square dance. People have different options of dances, which allow them to pick based on their interests. Since the square dance does not require any dance background, it is easier to for them to participate in the activities. When they are dancing in the group, they will feel more comfortable and have the feeling of companion, which could relieve the feeling of loneliness. The square dance also provides aged people an open space to interact with other people. They can teach each other the basic dance steps for the group, and also exchange the ideas of dancing. Besides dancing, they can talk about their daily lives and interesting news, which could motivates them to get involved in the society and learn about the new objects.

Olympic Ceremony & Square dance

Compared with the performances we have learned in the class, the square dance shares the common features but also has its own features. In the Beijing 2008 Olympic ceremony, the welcome performance “Fou” is a collective group dance. This dance was organized by the government, and its dancers were mixed with military soldiers and performers. All the performers require a lot of training experience in order to pursue the neat and uniform of all the movements. Each individual performer has to follow the certain rhythm to play drums and make exact pose for the performance. The “Fou” performance also requires many appliances, such as drums and costumes and other light supplies.

However, the Chinese square dance has low cost. The performance only requires a portable CD player and loud speakers. Participants also do not request any costumes for joining the activities. The low cost feature is suitable for the aged-people who lives in a frugal lifestyle. They are willing to participate such activities that do not cost them much money. They do not have to prepare anything for the activities so that they can join the activities any time they want. The dance movements of square dance are not restricted like “Fou” dance. Each individual can have his or her own movements corresponding to the same music. Even for the same dance steps, each person can move in his or her own pace. Therefore, the goal of “Fou” performance is to show the uniform and strength of the Chinese performance, while the square dance performance allows individuals to show their personalities and talent.

Compared with the Jay Chou’s performance, the Chinese square dance shares the commons together. They both absorb the traditional Chinese materials and the western materials. In Jay Chou’s performance, “Qing Hua Ci”, he uses traditional Chinese instruments, Guzheng and lyrics into the music and martial arts for the music videos. His performance promotes the Chinese ancient culture and beauty. As for square dance, it absorbs “Yangge” dance, which is a popular rural Chinese folk dance, basic Tibet dance movements and other Chinese dance movements. The Chinese square dance contains the aged people’s interest in dancing and Chinese culture.

Jay Chou’s another piece of music “Ben Cao Gang Mu” uses American electronica and hip-pop dance movements. He combined Chinese materials with western style together to create his own style, so that his music became very innovative and different from the temporal music at that time. Similarly, the square dance also combines with the western material. It uses the western dance steps like waltz, Rumba or Cha-Cha or Three-Step. It also uses the western dance music for the event.


Although Chinese square dance has many benefits, but it still has problems. The first one is nuisance problem. Since people usually dance in the morning or evening the public park, and they use loud speakers to play music. The deafening sound is a serious problem for the other residences that want to take a walk in the park and for the others living around the park. The second one is the public space occupation. Usually the dance group has hundreds of participants, and they require a large area for a long time. Their occupation prevents others from sharing the limited public area and resources. These problems needed to be solved for developing a better environment for the residence.

Protest for Nuisance Problem

Protest for Nuisance Problem


The Chinese square dance still has much potential to be developed and organized. It derives from the history of square culture, and combines the Chinese performance with western materials. The Chinese square dance is not only a folk performance art, but also a physical exercise for aged people to keep health. It also provides an opportunity for aged people to get involved into the society and enjoy their retirement.



To learn more about Chinese modern dance, click here.









Hou, Shengchuan, and Liang Song. “Social Problems Reflected in Square Dance Incidences.” Journal of Nanjing Sport Institute. Vol.29 No.2 (2015): 44-55. Print.

Yang, Cheng, and Zaiyong Shou. “Absense and Collaborative Fill of Sports Public Service Supply in the Aging Society: Taking Square Dance as a Case.” Journal of Shenyang Sport University. Vol.34 No.2 (2015): 29-35. Print.

Tao, Hong. “The study of the Present Situation of the Square Dance’s Development and the Countermeasures of the Development of the Square Dance.” Journal of Changchun Normal University (Natural Science). Vol.33 No.3 (2014): 110-112. Print.

Student presentation: Jay Chou