Breakout moment

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With street dance breaking into the mainstream, China Oriental Performing Arts Group has launched its street dance group, the first of its kind in the mainland, managed by a national-level performing arts company.

The newly established China Oriental Street Dance Group will bring audiences street dance shows, as well as train street dancers in cooperation with the General Administration of Sport of China and the Chinese Olympic Committee. [Photo provided to China Daily]

With its history dating to the 1950s, China Oriental Performing Arts Group is known for its grand dance productions and galas, combining singing and dancing shows of various styles. The company not only performs at home but also abroad, playing a key role in cultural exchanges.

The newly established China Oriental Street Dance Group, which was officially announced at the headquarters of China Oriental Performing Arts Group in Beijing on April 29, will bring audiences street dance shows, as well as training street dancers in cooperation with the General Administration of Sport of China and the Chinese Olympic Committee.

Street dance is the general term for a number of dance styles, including breaking, hip-hop, locking, popping and house. Each style is independent, with its own history and different look. The history of street dance dates to the 1960s and 1970s when young people of ethnic African, Caribbean and Latino communities in the United States met up socially and expressed themselves through dancing. Over the past decades, street dance has evolved and attracted young people on a variety of levels, as an art form, a competitive activity or for physical exercise.

It became popular in China after street dance-themed movies were screened in the country, and some of the first groups of street dancers became as famous as pop stars, such as the late dancer-choreographer Tao Jin (1961-97), who was known for his performance in the breakdancing-themed movie, Rock Kids (1988), directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang.

In 2020, breaking became an official Olympic sport. In an effort to attract younger audiences, the International Olympic Committee has officially added the form of street dance to the medal events program for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Breaking made its Olympic debut at the 2018 Summer Youth Games in Buenos Aires.

"The whole scene of street dance is gliding into a new chapter in China. We are excited to witness this moment, with the birth of this new street dance group, the first national-level street dance group in China," says Li Jialong, president of China Oriental Street Dance Group, adding that it took over a year to prepare the new street dance group.

China Oriental Street Dance Group will consist of two branches: a dance group for teenagers and children under the age of 16, and a youth dance group for people under 35. The total number of dancers of the group will be around 50, Li says.

Li, 42, learned traditional Chinese dance as a child and graduated from Beijing Dance Academy in 1998. After graduation, he joined China Oriental Performing Arts Group as a dancer.

"There are about one million people working in the street dance industry and the number of street dance fans is nearly 8 million in China, mostly young people. Street dance has a very large fan base in the country and the scene is promising," says Li.

The new street dance group will also take on the mission of promoting street dance culture in China from different aspects, such as launching a street dance major in Chinese universities, training street dance teachers, and organizing such dance competitions.

"Since the major fan base of street dance is young people, our vision is to build a healthy and professional environment for them to learn street dance," says Liu Sichong, vice-president of China Oriental Street Dance Group.

Liu fell in love with street dance when he was a middle school student. He was drawn to the dance moves, especially the "moonwalk", by Michael Jackson and started dancing by imitating. He was also interested in K-pop groups, such as H.O.T., which allowed him to gain exposure to more street dance moves.

"I was just blown away by the energy and expressive nature of the dance moves," recalls Liu.

However, his father, who worked with the law department in the government, was not happy with his son's interest.

"My father worried that I would turn out to be a 'bad boy' because he didn't like the way I dressed-loose, baggy outfits, and he didn't understand the beauty of street dance at all," Liu says.

Despite his father's opposition, Liu spent most of his spare time outside the classroom dancing. He not only danced by himself but also shared his passion for street dance with his classmates. He once danced with a group of classmates during the year-end school gala, which received warm feedback of the students and made him a topic on the campus.

Later, Liu studied finance at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, where he graduated in 2012. But he didn't stop pursuing street dance by joining in the university's street dance club and pursued a second major in music production. After graduation, Liu got a stable job and lived a regular life just like his father wanted. He spent his weekends teaching children to dance, as a way to continue his passion for street dance.

The newly established China Oriental Street Dance Group will bring audiences street dance shows, as well as train street dancers in cooperation with the General Administration of Sport of China and the Chinese Olympic Committee. [Photo provided to China Daily]

However, in 2013, he quit his job and fully devoted himself into running his own street dance studio, offering street dance training to both children and adults.

The same year, China Hip-Hop Union Committee was founded by the Chinese Dancers Association, which allowed the art form to be recognized by the professional dance system and gained support from the government.

The online exposure, high-profile celebrity collaborators and televised competitions all contributed to a boom in street dance. From 2018 to 2021, Street Dance of China, a popular online reality show lasting four seasons, and produced and broadcast by the video site Youku, gained a large fan base and popularized different styles of street dance.

Zhang Shuman, a member of China Oriental Street Dance Group, learned traditional Chinese dance and folk dance as a child. Now, 31, the Beijing native was introduced to street dance when she was 12, and it instantly intrigued her. Along with other six children, on average, 13 years old, Zhang participated in a street dance competition, which was broadcast on CCTV in 2004. They won the second prize as a team.

"I had no idea what street dance was at that time. I just loved the sense of freshness and free dance moves, which is very different from traditional Chinese dance and Chinese folk dance," says Zhang. "It boosted my confidence and allowed me to openly express myself."

Like many other parents in China then, her parents were initially not supportive of their daughter pursuing street dance but after they saw Zhang dancing on TV, they started to change their attitude.

Like Liu, Zhang also followed her parents' wish to study a popular major-accounting and later furthered her study in finance in France. Though she planned to work at banks or law firms, Zhang tried to maintain her connection with the street dance scene by working as part-time interpreters at various street dance competitions. In 2019, she joined China Oriental Performing Arts Group as a dancer.

"The birth of China Oriental Street Dance Group is only the beginning. People will get to see how serious street dance is," she says.

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