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How dancing is changing the lives of elderly Chinese

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-08-18 13:15
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Liu Lixia walks into the classroom wearing her dancing gear and proceeds to warm up in front of the mirror. She dances every week and enjoys her weekly university-style life.

Nothing unusual there perhaps, except that the "university" Liu attends is Harbin Senior Citizen School. It was established in 1984 and is one of China's first educational establishments aimed solely at senior citizens. More than 200,000 students have graduated from it over the past 30 years. All the students enrolled here are over 50 years old, and have had their lives enriched through attending the school.

Following her musical accompaniment, Liu spins and jumps gracefully to the beat. It is difficult to imagine that she is over 50 years old. "It has been more than three years since I first came to this class. Not only did dancing give me a new lease of life, but I also became more cheerful and confident," Liu said.

Liu's dance teacher Li Yongxia has taught this class for more than ten years, with the average age of her students being over 60 years old. "When they first came here, they were in a bad state and felt lost. Dancing helped change their lives from the inside out."

Under Li's leadership, the students formed a dance team, and have won awards in several competitions.

"There is a unique charm here that makes me insist on dancing. This school has become my second home," says Liu.

The "unique charm" Liu mentioned is actually the value these elder citizens found in themselves.

Sixty-eight-year-old Wang Jingyun and several hundred other students over 60 years old formed a volunteer group, and often go to nursing homes to perform.

"We are actually old people, but participating in dance enhances our physical and mental state. We also hope to continue to create value for society," Wang said.

Many of today's senior citizens in China were obliged to spend the early part of their lives working, and didn't have time to cultivate their hobbies. After retirement, many had a strong desire to learn new things and acquire more knowledge. For many, enrolling at a school like this is a way of doing just that.

Zhang Lihua, the principal of Harbin Senior Citizen School, said that on the first day of registration for this spring semester, nearly 200 classes were filled up within just five minutes, with around 40,000 students currently enrolled at the school.

Yet even these numbers are dwarfed by the amount of senior citizens in Harbin. According to Liu Shifa, deputy mayor of Harbin Municipal Government, by the end of 2017, the number of people over 60 years old in the city had reached 1.97 million, accounting for 20.7 percent of its total population. While there are more than 50 types of old-age education institutions in the city, the old-age enrollment rate is just 3 percent, meaning there remains a considerable difference between the supply and demand of education resources.

In order to give more elderly people the opportunity of entering the classroom, Harbin administrators are relying on Harbin Senior Citizen School to integrate 55 old-age education institutions in the area and establish branch campuses in order to expand the supply of resources for senior education.

The boom in elderly learning comes as China is increasingly experiencing problems associated with an aging population. By the end of 2017, there were 241 million people aged 60 and over in China, accounting for 17.3 percent of the total population. In 2016, the General Office of the State Council issued the "Elderly Education Development Plan (2016-2020)", designed to meet the learning needs of elderly people and improve the "spiritual pension" mechanism.

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