Accessibility links

Chinese Grandmothers Become Dance Stars


Dancing grandmothers who imitate the movements of traditional shadow puppets have become celebrities in China. The elderly ladies from the northern city of Tangshan have one thing in common, three decades ago, they all survived one of the world's deadliest earthquakes in their hometown.

With big smiles on their faces, 13 elderly ladies in exercise outfits jump up and down to the rhythm of the music. They then bend their knees and begin to walk sideways, their hands and heads performing jerky movements.

The dancers practicing in the cultural center for retired cadres in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan are imitating the movements of traditional shadow puppets. On stage, they often dance behind candle-lit screens, while a puppet master moves shadow figures around.

Wang Zaoxia, 62, the leader of the dance group, says Tangshan is the birthplace of traditional Chinese leather shadow puppets.

Wang says shadow puppets developed after a grieving emperor in the Tang dynasty asked his servants to dress up like his deceased concubine and dance behind a screen lit by candles to evoke his dead lover.

All of the dancers in the Tangshan group are grandmothers. Few of them had any dancing experience when the troupe developed from an exercise group for retirees nine years ago. They now practice for several hours every day. Dancing has given the women a new purpose in life after retirement.

Gao Lan, 74, is the oldest member of the group. She used to work as an employee for the army.

Gao says that she felt incredibly bored and lonely after she retired. She says the more she dances and the more she performs on stage, the more relaxed and happy she feels.

Dancing has become more than just a hobby for the ladies. Since taking part in the prestigious Spring Festival gala on Chinese television this year, they have become famous throughout China. They have performed for China's leaders in Beijing and taken their show to Shanghai, Taiwan and even Australia.

This summer, the women took part in an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of a massive earthquake in their hometown, Tangshan. A total of 240,000 people died in what was one of the world's deadliest natural disasters. All of the ladies are survivors of the quake. Wang Zaoxia says the event marked them deeply.

Wang says all of them walked out of the ruins after Tangshan was destroyed in 1976. She says the experience made them value and take advantage of each day. She says this is why the women put so much energy into their dance.

XS
SM
MD
LG