Brian's Blogs

Dancing the night away in Beijing

One of the great things about being an expatriate worker is that one can experience the different cultures and customs of other people around the world.

I used to work in the Middle East before coming to China and in Saudi Arabia, for the very first time, I learned all about Scottish country dancing -  a fact that may seem strange to some, given that I am half Scottish myself.

When I moved to Abu Dhabi and then to Dubai, I also started to learn Salsa dancing and East Coast Swing, among other dances; and so you can imagine my delight when arriving in Beijing when I was taken first to the Beijing branch of the Caledonian Society (where they practice Scottish Country Dancing once a month) and then to a number of Salsa clubs.

One thing that amazed me was how well the Chinese adapt to western dance cultures. The Chinese I have seen at these clubs are great dancers. They seem to have an inbuilt sense of rhythm, combined with a suppleness of body that makes them stunning to watch whether they are performing salsa, waltz, cha cha or whatever.  And this, coupled with the fact that they are all so “polite” and cultured on the dance floor makes it a real pleasure to go dancing in Beijing.

I have recently signed up to two dance courses that I go to once a week. The first is for Bachata - a style of dance that originated in the Dominican Republic, but which is danced widely all over the world. I have to take the bus way up into the north eastern suburbs of Beijing and then navigate my way through an office complex building where tucked away on the 5th floor is a dance studio complete with mirrored walls and practice bars.

The teacher is Filipino and prattles away in a mixture of English and Chinese. As I am the only non Chinese person in this class, I sometimes have to guess at what it is he is trying to say, while the Chinese dancers similarly have to work out what he is trying to teach them when he breaks into English! “Yi-er-san-si-five-six-seven-eight” he counts as we struggle to master some of the more complex moves.

But dancing is an international language all of its own and manages to cross boundaries in a way that leaves everyone wanting to come back for more week after week.

My other dance class is salsa – surely the most popular dance outside disco dancing and one which the Chinese obviously love. Salsa clubs are to be found all over Beijing, though the majority are to be found in the Chaoyang district; and though the style of salsa varies slightly in different parts of the world, the clubs attract visiting foreigners, all of whom have a good word to say about their Chinese hosts.

But one thing that puzzles me is when I speak to some of the people at work, it appears that few if any go dancing at all, saying they are always too busy for such an activity.

With the girls all complaining that they are desperately trying to lose weight (even though to my male eyes they have perfect figures!) and with the constant pressure that so many of them seem to get from their parents who want to know when they are going to get a boyfriend and settle down to start a family, I would have thought that joining a dance club would easily kill two birds with one stone; for what better place than a dance club to make new friends and to dance off those excess pounds at one and the same time!

So I think while I am here in Beijing I will have to see about starting an office dance club and show my colleagues what they have been missing out on for so long. I have no doubt whatsoever that they will look fabulous once they pluck up the courage to get onto the dance floor!

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