Bird walkers and Street Dancer: Living the Beijing Life (Blog 5)

I will always remember reading about bird walkers after reading this article. Why? Bird walking is not a concept we are familiar with in North America, and I’m not going to lie, I found it strange.

Dancing in the streets of Beijing displays cultural characteristics of a society that is quite dominant in the economic market, but whose diverse culture is unfamiliar to most . For instance, yangge dancing was non-existent to me prior to this article. Caroline Chen did a phenomenal job displaying parts of the traditional Chinese cultural, while familiarizing the reading audience with the loss of space for recreational activities.

“Unscripted and ubiquitous, grassroots dancing in the streets reveals the tensions between how the modern city is imagined and constructed, and how the real city is remade, fitted, and lived” (Chen, 2010, 33). The yangge dancers of Beijing reveal to the world how public spaces be accustomed to various activities and recreation within a city. In North America, people are not as demonstrative, and they use parks and recreational areas according to general rule. Not to say I completely agree with using public space to each person’s own liking, I can argue that turning public spaces into personal performance centres can cause great distress and issues amongst a society. There will never be a general consensus as to how the public centre should be used within a society. The yangee dancers can definitely be irritating as their early morning rituals includes loud, live percussion (Chen, 2010).  On the other hand, yangge dancers promote the culture and history of China.  Public space, as we already established, is a tricky thing to deal with.

Social justice is the main factor of the decisions to a large public area. Any restrictions would cause someone to have their freedom/rights taken away, but no restrictions on public places would cause chaos.

Reading this article made me realize that social justice issues come in all forms and deal with many different types of people. With the shortage of public areas, the yangge dancers have nowhere to go. They can’t practice close to their homes due to noise complaints, and travelling far distances is inconvenient with their lifestyles (Chen, 2010).

The Chinese government seemed to promote the yangge dancers with the development of the “new” yangge dance, so I wonder, why won’t they create a designated public space? I have a feeling money is a factor.

Living in the suburbs, I’ve never really dealt with a loss of public space. There are plenty of parks and recreational places in my neighbourhood for people to enjoy. But, what I didn’t realize until now, is that those places are only for the people in my neighbourhood to enjoy. In other words there aren’t very public at all.  The parks are typically in the centre of a survey of houses, enclosed, and quite unattainable to the public.  Since it’s a quaint neighbourhood, any loud noise or disruption would immediately have a great amount of complaints.  On the other hand, nearby in Burlington, there is a park called Spencer Smith – home to the Sound of Music Festival and Rib Fest.  Spencer Smith Park, for as long as I can remember, has been an  extremely culturally diverse and active space. For me, this is a perfect combination. If you want to relax, you go to your local park; if you want entertainment, you go to Spencer Smith.  But as with everything, there is an issue: you have to drive to get there.

So do we get a happy medium with public spaces?

If it doesn’t bother tourists to see acts on the streets, why does it bother people to have cultural displays in a designated public space?

Chen, C. 2010. Dancing in the streets of Beijing:improvised uses within the urban system in Hou, J. (ed)
Insurgent Public Space. New York: Routledge, 21-35.

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