Hip hop granny is breaking the mold

By Cao Yin (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-02 14:00
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Despite opposition from family, friends and even her dance teacher, 72-year-old Wu Ying turned her dream of becoming a performer into a reality, Cao Yin hears her story.

On the hip hop stage, young people wearing loose, colorful clothes and rapping take the leading roles, but among them a well-dressed woman stands out and receives more applause. The woman is 72 years old.

Unlike other elderly women, who are busy with housework or have resigned themselves to a quiet life, Wu Ying, arguably the oldest hip-hop dancer in China, has found another way to spend her time.

Under Wu's guidance, a team of five senior women has won many competitions in a field dominated by young people. Audiences call the women "the granny hip-hop dancing team".

"I have been racing against time and have never given up my dreams to dance," Wu told METRO with obvious confidence.

In the 1960s, a notice about selections for new performers in Beijing attracted the 18-year-old Wu. But family pressure and objections from her workplace forced the talented young dancer and actor to return to her original job.

"I preferred challenging and exciting work rather than a monotonous one, but I had no choice at that time because I had to earn a living," said Wu, who used to do the construction budget, and settled accounts for a company.

However, Wu's dream of being a performer never died and has burst into life now she is retired.

She has never forgotten the date, Aug 6, 2003, when she first saw hip hop on a TV competition. Her dancing team took shape soon after that.

"The novel dancing style and the dancers' cool clothes fascinated me, but I realized that no older people participated in it," she said. "This aroused my fighting instincts. I decided to establish an old people's hip-hop team to take part in a dancing competition the following year."

Wu started to imitate hip-hop stars' clothes and practiced rap every day.

However, contrary to Wu's expectations, learning hip hop and forming a dance team proved difficult. As well, younger people tended to ignore her.

At the beginning, a 22-year-old coach did not want to teach Wu because of her age, her physical condition and her memory. Meanwhile, Wu's neighbors, who were mostly professors and teachers, disapproved of her unusual clothes and thought what she did was not suitable for a senior citizen.

"I ignored their comments," Wu said. "I insisted on doing what I wanted to do because I knew I was right and I could do it."

At classes Wu stood in the first row to follow the coach's fast movements and afterwards wrote down each main point.

She also bought a hip-hop CD to become more familiar with street dancing. She even dreamed about hip hop.

In this way, she knew every movement after three months. This amazed the coach and greatly encouraged Wu, who started looking for dance groups.

At first, few elderly people wanted to join her team, most of them believing hip hop belonged to the younger generations.

What was worse, Wu's daughter, a civil servant in the city, laughed at her mother's behavior and they had many quarrels about it.

"She thought I was running wild and didn't want to go out with me," Wu said, adding that the disapproval of her close family members saddened her.

Although she felt misunderstood and depressed, Wu was starting to find dance partners. On Feb 10, 2004, she finally persuaded four aged people to learn hip hop from her.

From that day when her dance team was founded, Wu threw herself into hip-hop exercises.

"I forgot tiredness and was full of energy," she said. "I had a great passion for it and enjoyed the dancing process with all my heart."

On July 9, 2004, the granny hip-hop dancing team, with an average age of 60, took to the stage at China's hip-hop dancing competition and was voted the No 3 team.

"Compared with the young competitors, our team was very nervous," she said. "With our muscles tense, we danced mechanically. But we weren't intimidated by the younger people and performed more than 300 movements in our three-minute routine."

After that, Wu developed more hip-hop moves and has never stopped pursuing her dance dream.

In 2007, the granny team was invited to perform on China Central Television's 2007's Spring Festival Gala.

Since then, Wu's daughter has changed her mind about hip hop and has helped the granny team, because she realized her mother was doing what she really loved.

"My daughter gradually accepted me as a fashionable mother full of young people's ideas," said Wu. "Eventually she joined us to become the youngest member of the team.

Now, Wu teaches hip-hop classes at a fitness club and calls on more senior citizens to dance as a way to enrich their later years.

"Although we are old physically, our states of mind shouldn't fade away," she said. "The aged must lighten up their lives and be part of the modern world."

Wu raised her head and said: "I don't want to be a watcher. I want to take a leading role in my own life."

Dancing on the hip-hop stage with young people and her older colleagues, Wu has never felt lonely and has enjoyed every second, because she is living a dream she has had from her childhood. "My springtime set off again," the hip-hop granny said with a big smile. "My dancing dream is blooming now."