Residents' relief as line dancers 'silenced'

Chen Huizhi
An innovative approach to constant complaints about loud music means dancers can continue to move to the beat without incurring the wrath of nearby residents.
Chen Huizhi
Shot by Jiang Xiaowei. Edited by Jiang Xiaowei. Subtitles by Chen Huizhi.

Line dancing is a popular activity with retirees in China, but loud music played in public places has long been the subject of complaints from nearby residents.

In northwestern Shanghai, the problem has now been addressed.

Dancing grannies in colorful costumes have long been a feature at a square in Anting Town’s Old Street in Jiading District. But instead of loud music, they now seem to dance in silence. 

In fact, the music is played to them via earphones.

Dou Xiangxin, leader of a 200-strong dance group called “Jack” after his Internet nickname, sought to put an end to noisy line dancing earlier this year after tensions between dancers and residents escalated.

Line dancers usually dance in street parks or public squares in residential complexes, and often in groups of more than 100. It’s impossible to not upset other people since the music has to be loud enough for the last person in the line to hear clearly. The problem gets worse when a few groups dance alongside each other to different music, with each group having its music as loud as possible. 

“We were looking for a solution that makes line dancing no longer a trouble to other people, however many dancers are gathered in the same place,” Dou said.

Dou sought advice from an acquaintance, Shi Faming, a native of Anhui Province who organizes line dancing in Anhui and Shanghai and is also an amateur radio enthusiast.

Shi’s solution is a portable FM transmitter and an antenna. It works like a small radio station. The transmitter can be connected to a mobile device to play music. A larger transmitter allows transmission to places as far as five kilometers away.

The dancers wear FM headsets adjusted to receive the same frequency at which the transmitter is set, so the music is only played in their ears.

“We have looked at different choices and think the headsets with earplugs instead of headphones are better, because they don’t affect our dancing movements and are not a problem in hot weather,” Shi said.

A large transmitter costs about 800 yuan (US$122), while a smaller one costs half as much. The headsets Dou’s dance group members bought cost 45 yuan each.

Dou’s dance group members welcomed the solution.

“Previously, when we danced alongside other groups, we often couldn’t hear our music clearly, but now it’s no longer a problem,” said Shen Xingjuan, a 62-year-old Xiangyang village resident.

Shen, who leads a small group of some 30 dancers, said they don’t wear earphones when learning their dance moves, but do when they perform for others.

“The first time we performed with our earphones on, I was really worried that we might not deliver as well as before, but it turned out that we danced just as well,” she said.

Lu Julian, 50, another member of the group, said they used to get complaints from residents every day, but now no longer.

“The earphones work really well, and even in the hottest summer they won’t be a problem because line dancing doesn’t draw a lot of sweat,” she said.

To enable people watching the dancers to hear the music, Dou often plays it through a small radio, but it no longer has to be played loud because even the dancer farthest away has the music in their ears.

Shi said that “silent” line dancing is soon to be introduced in Fengxian District and other areas.

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