Internet & Tech

The silver screen

How a dance app is targeting China’s ‘damas’


A 400 million user opportunity?

Salsa, Hip hop and Revolutionary: these are just three of the genres available on Tangdou – a mobile app for middle-aged Chinese women who like to dance.

The app – launched in 2015 – offers instructional videos to break down the trickier steps of group choreography. Once users have mastered the routines they post videos of themselves doing the dances.

One recent post shows a fifty-something woman in a short skirt and T-shirt dancing in her living room. She adds decorative frames to the clip showing the Chinese flag and patriotic Party slogans.

In other clips, people add images of flamingos or falling petals.

For the apps’ fans it’s a way of staying fit and being social. Most use it to learn routines they will later perform with their square dance groups – so-called because they convene in public squares.

And this is where it gets more interesting from a policy perspective. Chinese society is about to enter a period of rapid aging – by 2050 a third of the population, or about 490 million people, will be over 60 years-old. The government wants them to stay healthy for as long as possible, so it has been encouraging pastimes like square dancing (although younger city residents frequently complain the ladies play their music too loud or block pavements with their routines).

Policymakers also want to get more older people online so that they are familiar with technology that helps them to stay in touch with family members, book hospital appointments and do their shopping. To a degree this will happen naturally – people who are 40 now are already familiar with life online and will continue to use it.

But of the people who are already over 60 – roughly about 240 million people – a much smaller proportion are active online (see WiC 409).

Tangdou – which went through a Series C fundraising round last month – wants to change that with age-appropriate content and a customer philosophy that focuses on older people.

“With young people word of mouth works very fast, they post a product in a few groups and it explodes… reaching older people is slower, it spreads out like a wave, but it is more durable,” said Zhang Yuan, Tangdou’s forty-something boss.

Since starting out with square dancing in 2015, Tangdou has since diversified: it now runs thousands of dance and fitness events every month, and gives its 200 million users access to age-appropriate goods through a tie-up with online shopping platform Taobao.

Zhang says these customers are also more likely to take an interest in health and wellbeing – two fast-growing areas of the Chinese economy. The social media element of the app also means they can discuss their interest in these sectors with their friends.

Over the last two years Tangdou got most of its traffic via a mini app launched through WeChat, according to Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, led its recent financing round. Others investors include Xiaomi founder Lei Jun’s Shunwei Capital, as well as American venture capital firms GGV and IDG.

“We believe that Sugar Bean [Tangdou’s name in English] has the opportunity to become the first platform company dedicated to serving more than 400 million middle-aged and elderly users,” quoted a GGV spokesperson as saying. “As [China’s] mobile internet enters the ‘second half’ of its development phase, the markets for maternal and child care, as well as middle-age and elderly users have become the new red-hot verticals,” GGV’s managing partner added in a statement.

Details of the latest round of funding haven’t been made public but Tangdou raised $5 million and a further $25 million in its first two rounds.

The latest investment takes total proceeds to $100 million, calculated.

As for future plans Zhang has said he might take Tangdou into the “silver hair” travel business. Chinese dama – as these middle-aged women are commonly called – have been known to go on holiday together and bust out their moves in famous locations. In 2015 one group had a boogie in front of the Louvre in Paris. Another group performed their routine to bemused onlookers in Red Square in Moscow.

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