White collar workers take up classical dancing as a new way to socialize, Wendy Qian reports
Inside a large carpeted room, people in vintage-style masks and formal clothes were grouped in fours and working through the steps of late 19th century European dances. Women dressed in baroque evening gowns greeted men with courtesies and the men returned their greetings with bows. They walked in figure eights and clapped each other's hands in time to the Kaiserwalzer. This European-style masquerade is not from a British movie, but seen at the fifth floor of Yongdingmen Hotel last Sunday. Dressed in magenta, Guo Keli, one of the event organizers, patiently taught different groups the dance step by step. "One-two-three-four, and turn," said Guo through a microphone as she waltzed in front of curious eyes.
At first, nervous participants giggled at their clumsiness. Still, the formal setting encouraged them to learn the dance well.
More women than men attended this event, possibly because they were eager to wear gowns with elegant floral designs, shining sequins and fluffy crinolines.
The group used to meet in parks and dance in ordinary clothes, but some of the women wanted something fancier.
"Women wanted a princess experience, so we organized this event," explained Romansi, a 29-year-old Chinese office worker.
Some of the participants said they believe that dancing is a good way for people to relax after work.
Indeed, most of the 40 participants who chattered behind their feathered masks are office workers. Some read about this event online and asked their friends to come along with them.
Gao Yuanwei, an amateur dancer and another organizer of the event, rented the extravagant gowns for about 150 yuan each per night, necessitating a 100-yuan per person general entrance fee.
Gao said that she danced frequently in college, but after graduation, she couldn't find anywhere suitable to dance.
"At parks, most of the people dancing are old, while night club environments are uncomfortable," she said.
Gao, who works as an outdoor event organizer for a company in Beijing, said her coworkers usually travel to places such as Antarctica, which is "way beyond what I can afford". Dancing is a reasonable alternative for her.
Gao said she doesn't really like other common ways of socializing either. "Dining together seemed like the only way I could socialize."
She said she discovers interesting new ways to socialize through movies such as Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice.
The dancing games at the Yondingmen Hotel were heavily influenced by dances in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.
Gao believes that their event is more than a superficial adaptation of the movie. To some extent, "the movie's portrayal of personal relationships is similar to those of ours in real life," Gao said.
Beijing has many white collar workers who wish to expand their personal networking but often find it difficult to establish new friendships.
"Invisible gulfs exist between two strangers that prevent them from communicating, just like in Pride and Prejudice." Gao said. "And that's not a healthy societal relationship."
Yet Pride and Prejudice has a happy ending, where Darcy and Elizabeth eventually overcame barriers despite gossip and rumor. Gao thinks her dance events can achieve something similar.
Many of the participants said they made new friends and had fun while dancing.
"It's really interesting, even though I feel a bit dizzy after twirling about," said a woman surnamed Luo.
To help dancers get to know each other better, Gao also arranged for dancers to play an adaptation of the game Mafia, in which participants act out the roles of pirates, nobles and slaves. After the game, the men and women resumed their dancing.
Some participants said the dance was tiring, but none of them could have been as tired as the organizers.
Gao said that although this event marks great progress in her "dance crew", it comes at a price.
"I haven't slept for days," she said.
She hopes her crew can next perform for elderly people at a Beijing care home.
"We'd like to make elderly people happy through our dances."