China’s Active Aunties; Square Dancing a Hit in Melbourne

Chinese square dancing in Australia
The author with the Federation Square Chinese Dance Troupe in Melbourne, Australia

Early morning China is when you see it the most: Tai Qi, Qi Gong, badminton, swimming, square dancing and more. Before the young’uns roll out of bed, their parents and grandparents have already spent 1 to 2 hours outside exercising. Whatever it is they’re into, they’re out there and moving their bodies. That’s more than I can say for a majority of elderly people of the West.

House bound and lonely, a large majority of our Western grandparents barely make it out of their homes more than once a week, let alone exercising or socialising. After observing that Chinese elderly remain so active and strong, I often wonder how such activities would be observed back home if there were any. I was soon to find out.

Recently, I returned home to Melbourne, Australia. I was having lunch with my family at a pub in the city’s famous Federation Square when I heard it, that unmistakable square dancing beat. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I rushed out of the pub, there they were, Chinese aunties all lined up in rows, active wear on, swishing and swaying to the beat.

I approached the lead teacher; I just had to know if they were mainlanders. “I’m originally from Shanghai, and have lived in Melbourne, Australia for 28 and a half years; I will not return to life in China. Today’s China is not the China I left 28 years ago. It has undergone radical changes”, Joanna, Federation Square Chinese Troupe Instructor told the Nanjinger.

“I have fallen in love with Melbourne and the Australian people’s friendship, enthusiasm, boldness, climate, environment, etc. it’s all very attractive to me to continue living in this country. It has been ranked as the world’s most livable city.”

Joanna, Federation Square Chinese Troupe Instructor

Asked why she left China so long ago, Joanna told me, “China’s policy of doing business at the time, and the management systems in place were really difficult for small companies to survive, that among other important reasons made me decide to move to Australia”.

While watching the square dancing troupe dancing at Federation Square, I noticed one caucasian woman smiling, effortlessly gliding along with the group. “Oh! That’s Jacki Staude. She lives in Geelong and participates in practice every Thursday. She doesn’t know Chinese, but this is definitely for her. Language is no obstruction at all for her. She is very smart and hardworking. Every dance she learns and [she]has participated in all of our performances”, Joanna said.

Not only do the Melbourne dancing aunties of Federation Square meet every Thursday, but they perform elsewhere too. Joanna went on, “Our Federation Square Song and Dance Troupe trains once a week. Our dance group is the best platform for promoting Chinese culture, so that Australians who do not have the opportunity to go to China can understand and appreciate Chinese culture in their own country. There are many dance groups like us in Melbourne”.

Chinese culture has influenced the Western world from its food to its medicine; perhaps through public dancing, China’s active aunties can influence more robust community-based activities for the West’s aging population. “As a result of performing and practicing in Australia we have realised that the combination of Chinese and Western cultures in this way works well, and we hope that more locals in the future would like to join us”, concluded Joanna.

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Renée Gray Beaumont
As an Australian journalist living in Nanjing for many years, Renée Gray Beaumont has a background in research, print and online publishing, taking great pleasure in discovering more about Nanjing with every article. 作为在南京居住多年的澳大利亚新闻工作者,Renee Gray Beaumont 有着调研以及印刷品和线上出版物的工作背景。她总是乐于在每篇文章里发现关于南京的内容。