When is a Square Dance Not (Exactly) a Square Dance?

This probably has never happened before in the history of square dancing, but it seems that there is another activity being called “square dancing” that is not what you might expect. In China, there is a new activity called “guangchangwu”, and it is being translated as “square dancing”. It involves large groups of people (usually middle aged women) going to parks or open “squares” in the city and dancing in sync with (often quite loud) music. Here is an article about this phenomenon. The dances are choreographed and not quite as repetitive as line dancing. This could be a bit confusing, at least for English speakers, as what we have historically considered to be “square dancing” also exists in China.

The two kinds of dancing have two distinct names in Chinese. The “square dance” people do in public squares in China is written like this: 广场舞. The first 2 characters translate into “square”, as in “public square”. The kind of square dance that this website is about has a different name in Chinese: 方块舞, with the first 2 characters translating also into “square” in English, but referring to the shape of square in Chinese. The last character in each expression means “dance”.

The “public square” form of square dancing is sometimes not welcome in neighbourhoods, as it is noisy and can be disruptive. I do hope the “rectangular” square dancing doesn’t get a bad name because of this!

Here is a video of what “public square” dancing looks like.

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