Local residents dance surrounded by heavy smog in Harbin, northeast China’s Heilongjiang province

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Chinese authorities, already among the most interventionist in the world, have stepped in to regulate public line dancing, the latest fitness craze among elderly mainland women.

The greying of China, which will boost the over-60 population to 39 per cent of the total by 2050, has left Beijing struggling to find ways to keep senior citizens healthy. But dancing at dawn and dusk in public squares, car parks and outside residential complexes — the preferred exercise choice of millions of Chinese, mostly retired and mostly female — has led to frequent complaints from workers whose sleep is disturbed by the pensioners and their ghetto blasters.

On Monday China’s sports bureaucracy announced its solution to the discord over “square dancing”, as the pastime is known in China: “Twelve government-approved dance routines, complete with “scientifically designed gestures that will bring people positive energy”, according to state media.

“Square-dancing represents the collective aspect of Chinese culture but now it seems that the overenthusiasm of participants has dealt it a harmful blow with disputes over noise and venues,” Liu Guoyong, chief of the State General Administration of Sport’s mass fitness department, was quoted as saying in the official China Daily newspaper. “So we have to guide it with national standards and regulations.”

The sports agency said the exercises were choreographed by experts to be “suitable and scientific for all demographic groups”.

The routines, accompanied by pop music such as viral hit “Little Apple”, would be introduced to local fitness sites in 31 provinces and municipalities in the next five months, the agency said.

Fitness trainer Wang Guangcheng, whose square-dancing team appeared onstage for China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala in February, said “the unified drills will help keep the dances on the right track, where they can be performed in a socially responsible way”.

But Zhou Guanglian, deputy director of the public cultural affairs department of the Ministry of Culture, said the central government authorities had stopped short of regulating the thorniest issues about public dancing: the recommended volume of music, permissible times for practice and prohibited sites.

Several municipalities have tried to address these problems. The government of Wenzhou near Shanghai signed an agreement with square dancers to restrict venue, time and volumes for the dancers, and allow police to monitor noise levels every half-hour. But finding room to dance in China’s notoriously overcrowded cities will tax the abilities even of Beijing’s central planners.

Additional reporting by Zhang Yan

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

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