China grannies take hip-hop over hip replacements

BEIJING, Dec 7 (Reuters Life!) - Chinese grandmother Wu Ying is not your typical fan of hip-hop, nor the sort you would imagine carving a dancing career out of heavy beats and funky bass-lines.

But the lithe 71-year-old has performed all over China and collected dozens of awards shaking her booty with a team of 30-odd rap-dancing retirees.

Wu is like many older people in China who lived through the tumultuous decades after the Communist Party swept to power in 1949, when Western popular music was frowned upon and a citizen’s duty was to live, work and procreate for the state.

“When I was young, my life was to go to work and come home, then take care of my family. There was no other way of exercising. There was nothing. If I wanted to exercise, I had to stretch against a wall,” Wu said.

It wasn’t until her own children were middle-aged that Wu decided to live for herself.

And she was well into her 60s when she first smitten by hip-hop, watching a dance competition on television in 2003.

Not content with the slow speed of taichi or Peking opera like other Chinese retirees, she began taking hip-hop classes around Beijing before coaxing friends of her own age to join her.

They call themselves the “hip-hop grannies”. Most are over 60 and the youngest is 48.

But before the national tours, awards and fame, there was derision from peers and misgivings from relatives.

Wu’s family could have been a bit more supportive in the beginning, she said, especially her daughter.

“She said, ‘This is just great. There are a bunch of young hooligans dancing on the streets out there, now I have an old hooligan dancing in my own household.’ The way she said those words was very hard for me to accept. It was so condescending,” Wu said.

Chen Guobi, the 66-year-old leader of the dance group, says hip-hop’s rhythms have kept her own in check, and she has not seen a doctor in years.

“I did hip-hop for two years and didn’t need any more medication, never went to the hospital and now I don’t even know where hospitals are,” she said.

Apart from the music’s exercise pay-off, the language barrier also protects the grannies’ ears from the more gritty slices of urban life told in some hip-hop songs’ lyrics.

“I heard that some of (their words) are really liberated, but I thought to myself that it couldn’t be that bad...,” said Wu.

“If it’s too open-minded, as old people, we would have a hard time dancing along. We don’t like music like that. We like music that’s like sunshine ... and encourages people to embrace the world, the sky and nature,” Wu said.