Taking street dance to campus in China

On weekends, the crew enjoy time away from their study and research schedule, traveling from the four campuses to meet at a rented dance studio.


Dance lovers from Beijing Sport University and the Minzu University of China collaborate to give an artistic reproduction of stories in the Chinese folk tale Madame White Snake in the reality show Campus. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

February 2, 2023

BEIJING – Scientists depend on facts; their reputation depends on verifying the validity of their findings. It’s not normally something to make a song and dance about, but one field, not usually associated with scientific endeavor, also requires a degree of authenticity: hip-hop.

The University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, widely recognized for cultivating talented people in science and technology, may seem like an unlikely place for hip-hop, yet a group of postgraduate and doctoral students gathered there to share their pursuit of authenticity in both scientific research and hip-hop dance.

I was chubby and, as a result, not very confident. However, the atmosphere … inspired me to dance with panache and forget about my body anxiety.

Hu Weimin, doctoral student

The university boasts four campuses at various locations in Beijing.

Although living in different campuses, far apart from one another, these students have founded a dance club called HD Crew. On weekends, they enjoy several hours away from their study and research schedule, traveling from the four campuses to meet at a rented dance studio in Haidian district.

They learn and practice moves and routines of various street-dance genres including hip-hop, popping, locking and jazz.

“Dance helps me unwind after a stressful week of study,” says Hu Weimin, 26, a member of HD Crew and a doctoral student specializing in optics.

Jazz is his favorite.

Dancers from Sichuan Conservatory of Music stage a performance inspired by the epic masterpiece, Dream of the Red Chamber. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The formation of his passion for dancing can be traced back to his early years, when he was still at primary school and liked to imitate the performances of Cantopop idols from their music videos.

It was not until he became an undergraduate student in China University of Geosciences in Wuhan that he started to formally learn from dance teachers.

Later, he got to make friends with the other dance lovers at the university.

Without a proper dance studio, they often rehearsed together in the square in front of the university’s stadium, the glass wall of which would serve as a big mirror.

“I was chubby and, as a result, not very confident,” recalls Hu.

“However, the atmosphere created by these dance lovers inspired me to dance with panache and forget about my body anxiety.”

Lin Jinyi is another HD Crew member.

She used to learn dance at a studio in Chaoyang district.

Hu Weimin (second from right, front row), a doctoral student, dances with his peers from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in the talent show Campus. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

She had to spend three hours traveling to and from her campus in Shijingshan district and the dance studio. During the commute, she would watch online tutorials, complete assignments, review dance moves or listen to music to count the timing and beat in her mind.

“After I joined HD Crew, I found that there are so many others at our university who have the same passion for dance as me. A strong sense of belonging overwhelmed me,” Lin says.

“An interesting point is that hip-hop culture inspires people to ‘keep it real’ while scientific works are underpinned by honesty.

“Although it seems that science has nothing to do with hip-hop. I think they uphold the same values.”

Last year, for the first time, they got a chance to perform on a big stage.

They were invited to join the talent show, Campus.

Dancers from Sichuan Conservatory of Music incorporate elements of piying, a traditional Chinese shadow play performance. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The show invited 20 dance clubs from higher education institutions, including the Central University of Finance and Economics, the Macau University of Science and Technology, Beijing Sport University, Fudan University and the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts, to go through rounds of competitions.

“Instead of making the show competitive, we would like to lean more on presenting how those young people articulate their thoughts onstage and encourage their attempts at emotive self-expression using artistic movement,” says Tang Yuan, the show’s producer.

Some of their performances expressed their reflections of a wide range of topics, including school bullying, environmental protection and free-choice marriage; some artistically reproduced scenes from classic movies and Chinese legends, while others incorporated elements of intangible cultural heritage such as piying, a traditional Chinese shadow play performance, into choreography.

The talent show attained 7.9 points out of 10 on the review site Douban.

“Students from different universities across the country rehearse and compete in groups, showing a strong cohesion. The strength of the collective fills me with nostalgia for my college years,” comments one reviewer.

Tang Yaling, 22, a graduate from Sichuan Conservatory of Music, is also the leader of a dance club, named Rich Family, at the university.

“It’s my last time doing a group activity with the other club members. I want to do my best in all the performances to bid a proper farewell to my unforgettable university years,” she says.

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