Until recently street dancing in China has been the domain of elderly ladies performing synchronised jigs in parks. Their antics have sparked debate over the improper use of coveted public space and the loud music that accompanies their routines. People living in the vicinity of the most popular dance spots have sometimes been hostile and the authorities have intervened with new regulations to curb arguments and worse.
But for the last few weeks another form of street dance has taken centre stage. After video streaming site iQiyi’s The Rap of China took the country by storm last year (with episodes getting more than 200 million views), rival Youku has launched a reality competition of its own.
Street Dance of China, which debuted online in late February, features four celebrity judges – Yi Yangqianxi from boy band TFBoys, Taiwanese actor and show host Show Luo, former member of the South Korean boy band Super Junior Han Geng, and ex-EXO singer Huang Zitao – whose job is to create their own hip-hop troupe from a pool of 390 contestants.
While ratings have been strong, garnering over 100 million views on Youku in just two episodes, the show only has a score of 6.5 out of 10 on Douban, the TV and film review site. Most of the complaints about the format relate to the huge number of contestants, which makes it harder for audiences to become emotionally attached to particular dancers. Others say the pacing of the show is too slow. Even by the third episode, which was aired this week, the judges were still winnowing down the contestants.
“Terrible editing and even worse pacing. I understand they are trying to popularise street dance but the show is doing anything but. Moreover, the judges are lousy dancers themselves, it is obvious that they are the weakest dancers on the show,” one netizen wrote on Douban.
Audiences have also struggled to grasp the technicalities involved in the art form, says Chief Entertain-ment Officer, an entertainment blog. “I am so lost in all the street dancing moves like ‘popping’ and ‘locking’. I also don’t understand street dance enough to judge whose performance is more superior so it seems to me that all the judges’ decisions are random,” one netizen wrote on WeChat. “I don’t think I will watch it next week.”
The fact that the series has been aired at all caught some in the industry by surprise. Back in January, regulators banned hip-hop from TV as authorities were wary of the genre’s influence on young people. Local rappers say regulators already censor lyrics deemed sensitive and in the same vein a dancer’s tattooed arms were blurred out during an episode of Street Dance of China.
Street dance has an advantage over rap in that there are no violent or profane lyrics, Xu Hua, the leader of Beijing-based troupe RMB, told Sixth Tone, a blog. More aggressive gestures like pelvic thrusts or mimed throat-slitting can also be edited out without affecting the overall performance.
To make the show more palatable for the censors, Youku also worked overtime to highlight the positive aspects of street culture. “What we need to do together is to make street dance healthy and tell everyone that hip-hop is a very positive form of dance,” says Hu Haoliang, one of the contestants.
Tencent Entertainment, a portal, agrees: “In a lot of peoples’ minds, hip-hop dancers are very cocky. However, during the course of the competition, the humility and appreciation the contestants have shown toward one another have changed the audience’s mind about street dance and hip-hop stars.”
While Street Dance of China may or may not prove a win for Youku, its competitors are already poised to enter the fray. This week iQiyi launches its own street dance series called Hot-Blood Dance Crew – created by the producer of The Rap of China and helmed by megastar Lu Han. And Tencent is also gearing up for a version of its own, with the release of Dancer 24 based on the same concept.
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