2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Xiaoqiang Shi

Shanghai University of Sport
Ideology, Aesthetic Culture and Public Space: A Sociological Analysis of Chinese Square Dancing

Across China, millions of middle-aged and older residents (most of whom are women often referred as ‘dancing grannies’) gather in public squares, parks, and plazas in the early morning or at night to engage in rhythmic exercises. Chinese square dancing includes various forms such as aerobics, folk dance, and collective dance (the main dancing style). This unique Chinese ‘square dancing’ phenomenon has sparked controversy over loud music complaints and dancers’ use of public space. The debate, to some degree, has reflected multi-faceted issues ranging from shifting aesthetic views on body image and lifestyles to changing political ideologies in the process of (re)constructing the socio-political culture in modern Chinese society. 
In this paper, I will examine the Chinese square dancing phenomenon from a post-socialist feminist perspective. From one perspective, it seems that these dancing performances, as some scholars have argued, represent an enduring collectivist communist ideology which once predominated the 1966-1976 Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. However, a more careful reading illuminates a complex interplay between bodies and spaces in post-socialist Chinese society—to some extent the unprecedented popularity of Chinese square dancing embodies Chinese women’s pursuit of aesthetical and lifestyle representations in responding to perpetuating patriarchal cultural norms and values in the Chinese society, and the tension between the shortage of public sport facilities within increasingly competitive urban space and Chinese women’s striving for leisure and political participation at the grassroots level.