The Forbidden City That Can’t Stop Dancing
For millennia, Beijing has embraced dance. Now, a new generation of revelers is redefining the moves.
Dance is woven into the history of China. The earliest record of the Chinese character for “dance” dates from the Bronze Age and from harvest dances to the dragon dances of the Lunar New Year, local dance traditions are alive and well. Group dancing, in particular, remains a popular pastime in Beijing. At parks and public spaces across the city, ranks of middle-aged women and retirees can be seen participating in guangchang wu (public square dancing) to contemporary or Communist-era music.
Unbeknownst to them, there is another revolution taking place in the city’s dance studios and cocktail bars among Beijing’s younger generations. Swing – a dance style originating in the American jazz culture of the 1920s to 1940s – has exploded onto the mainland, led in part by local groups like Swing Beijing. The emergence of swing is fuelled by the post-80s and 90s’ generations’ growing interest in foreign art forms and retro lifestyles, as evidenced by the many vintage stores dotting Gulou East Street and speakeasy-style bars popping up in the city’s trendiest neighborhoods.
“The emergence of swing is feulled by the post-80s and 90s’ generations.”
Rejecting more conventional clubs in favor of good old-fashioned dancing and live music, Beijing’s young and hip are injecting their own culture into the mix by donning pin-curled hair, pearl strands, and qipao dresses inspired by the glamor and decadence of 1920s Shanghai. Try Modernista in Baochao Hutong for a packed swing dance and jazz band events calendar. Each year, there is even a Great Wall Swing Out every April where dancers can do the Lindy Hop on Beijing’s most famous landmark.