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City park dancers get their groove on Chongqing style

By Peng Yining  (China Daily)

09:17, February 18, 2013

People perform baba dancing, or park dancing, in Guanyinqiao Square in Chongqing to the music of international hit songs. (Photo/China Daily)

With the now-ubiquitous Gangnam Style song a hit all over the world, it probably didn't come as a surprise to see it taking center stage in Chongqing's traditional baba dancing, or park dancing, sessions.

The infectious South Korean tune and other international hits have reshaped the city's most popular hobby and are gradually replacing traditional Chinese songs.

As long as there's no rain, from 7 pm to 9 pm dancers converge in Guanyinqiao Square, in one of the city's busiest districts. The square is the most popular spot for baba dancing sessions.

With the trendy beats of Gangnam Style blasting on loudspeakers, more than a thousand people, most of them over 50, recently could be seen copying the trademark moves of Korean pop star Psy.

"Foreign songs are something new, and I like them," said Wang Tangrong, 58, who has been dancing for more than 10 years. She said that her friends also like to dance to songs by US pop singers such as Lady Gaga and Beyonce.

"Poker Face is my favorite," said the former cook, referring to a song from Lady Gaga's debut album.

Although dancing in the parks could be seen as a national hobby, no one else is more obsessed with it than people in the mountainous metropolis in Southwest China.

Baba, which means empty area in Chongqing dialect, started in the 1980s, when residents started getting together to dance in any unobstructed space where they could stretch their hands and legs.

In 2012, nearly a million people participated in more than a thousand baba dancing contests in Chongqing, according to local media reports.

Baba dancing is the most popular exercise among the elderly in the city and until recently was accompanied by traditional Chinese music.

With the help of the Internet, Chongqing people are now able to keep up with the latest musical trends.

"We are not just following what is popular in China, we are also catching the overseas waves," said Liu Qun, a 45-year-old housewife.

As a hardcore fan of baba dancing, Liu shows up in Guanyinqiao Square almost every day at around 7 pm with a half-meter-tall speaker.

"You just play the music and start to dance," she said. "People will join you."

She said the number of people in dancing groups peaked during the Spring Festival holiday this year. The other night Liu danced with more than 1,000 people, she added.

Liu's friends are now planning to dance to Crazy in Love, which Beyonce sang at this month's Super Bowl halftime show.

"I'm not saying that traditional Chinese songs are not good, we still dance to them, but more and more young people are attracted to the new songs," Liu said.

Bi Gang, a 23-year-old resident, said he has been dancing with the "uncles and aunts" on the squares for two years. And due to the adoption of foreign hits, baba dancing is now not just for the elderly.

"Nearly half of the 100 people in my dancing group are younger than 35," he said.

Bi has rearranged the dance moves to Gangnam Style, making them easier for amateur dancers and senior residents.

"We are trying to make the old tradition more fun by adding modern elements," Bi said.

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