|Du Si (second from right) dances with several members of her troupe at a park in Beijing. [For China Daily/Hou Shiping]|
62-year-old's popular troupe is proving it's never too late to follow your passions
Du Si has been a dance enthusiast from a very young age, yet her life as a performer only began after she started to turn gray.
Despite the summer heat and unseasonal rain, Du, 62, always arrives at her impromptu open-air "dance studio", a park in Beijing filled with black bamboo, on time.
Besides dancing herself, Du over the past seven years has acted as the teacher, manager, sound engineer and accountant for her dance troupe, where she is known as "Teacher Du".
As soon as Du starts dancing, her expressive arm movements and gestures show her great passion for life, enchanting the other dancers and her many fans as she twirls in the afternoon sun.
Du founded her dancing troupe in the park across the street from one of China's top dance academies in 2012.
By 2015, it had grown into a renowned organization consisting of about 30 regular dancers, almost all of whom are retirees in their fifties and sixties.
Different from ordinary dancing, their performances have a unique quality, employing the distinct folk music and dance flavor of different ethnic groups — Dai, Mongol and Tibetan.
Their special costumes of long skirts, ankle boots and colorful scarves form beautiful, enchanting scenes in the park.
Du says that they try to meet the "three beauties" gold standard of dance: beautiful costumes, beautiful motion and beautiful spirit.
"We are pretty though we are old, and more importantly our beauty resides in who we are," Du said.
The troupe is also acutely aware of its social responsibilities, and Du asks her team not to leave litter where they dance. They have even been awarded "best visitors to the park" by the park management center for six straight years.
In the hope of inspiring more retired people to dance, several years ago Du started posting video clips of their dance performances online.
"I hope to influence more people through my dance, enrich their lives, establish a new mental outlook for seniors and spread the positive energy that money isn't the only way to happiness," she said.
Sun Jie, a 61-year-old retiree, is a proud member of Du's troupe. Apart from handling daily housework, she also dances and sings in a choir.
Sun is satisfied with the way things are. "My health is getting better by dancing and I don't bother my children with health problems, which is even better," she said.
Liu Bin, 62, another member of the troupe who retired two years ago, said: "Times have changed. The government, society and our children all provide help to enrich our lives. We don't need to worry about money; we can do whatever we missed when we were working hard to provide for our families."
Du said: "There is a high chance for seniors to be depressed if they stay at home doing nothing after retirement. So, dancing is not just a hobby but a lifesaver for us."
Du's personal account on Youku, a major video platform, has more than 3,300 followers, and more than 2,000 users on short-video sharing platform Douyin have liked her videos.
Du's charisma has attracted an increasing number of older people.
On weekends, many retired dancers and fans from all over the city, even other cities, come to join or watch the troupe dancing.
Fans of Du's dance troupe even come from abroad, some as far afield as Japan, Mexico and Germany. Some fly to Beijing to join her.
Du is not alone. In the park where she became famous, hundreds of people her age or older have joined in, and there are at least four dance troupes.
At the end of 2018, China had a population of 249 million people age 60 or older, and the number is expected to exceed 300 million in 2025.
For many like Du, dancing in a public park is more than just idling away a lazy afternoon, it is also about making friends, sharing experiences and chasing dreams.
The country is rapidly improving people's lives, which allows people like Du to chase their unrealized dreams.
China has increased the basic retirement pension for 15 years, in addition to a strategic stock of about 2 trillion yuan ($278.9 billion) in national social security funds, the country also has about 4.78 trillion yuan in enterprises' aged-care insurance funds, according to official statistics.
Du has a good retirement pension, so she can throw herself into dancing and the good life.
Though getting on in years, Du is still physically and mentally devoted to what she has always dreamed of, dancing.
"I have been through a lot in my life, but now I'm in my 60s I finally have the chance to realize my dreams," Du said.
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