Street dancers brought to heel as authorities curtail loud music

December 06, 2018 |

Line dancing grannies and grandpas are fun to watch but not necessarily fun to live beside. because of the loud music they play in outdoor public areas.

The loud music these otherwise sedate oldies blast out every evening is a major headache for nearby residents and businesses, and calls for dancers to tone it down grow ever louder. Solving the problem isn’t been easy, but some progress is being made.

One success story is the transformation of Meichuan Road pedestrian street in Putuo District.

The pedestrian street, wedged between two large residential complexes, is lined with shops and restaurants. In the middle of the street is a 7,000-square-meter public square with a spectacular stone tower 100 meters tall.  Xu Feifei of Xianghong Property Management that oversees the street, said the dancers love the spot because they say it “feels good.”

In its heyday, the street attracted about 1,000 dancers and brass players, who in turn drew numerous onlookers. But the more noise they made, especially after 9pm, the more nearby residents complained.

They cursed the dancers from apartment windows and even threw water on them. The property management company bore the brunt of the dispute because it was seen to be the mediator. The situation got so out of hand that Xianghong was helpless to intervene.  

In 2013, Shanghai started to ban amplifiers from streets, squares and parks next to “noise-sensitive” buildings, but enforcement has been weak and dancers usually outnumber enforcement officers.

Dissatisfied residents pushed for a decisive change last August. As a result, the entire street was closed for a week to dance groups, and any group wishing to dance there had to sign an agreement with the property management company, stipulating the hours of dancing and the equipment used.

According to the agreement, dance is not allowed during lunchtime or after 8:30pm. Amplifiers played within 50 meters from residential buildings can’t have an output of more than five watts, and volume must be kept below 60 decibels. Dance groups should be 20 or fewer people.

In the public square, dance groups are limited to demarcated areas, eliminating territorial disputes and volume wars.

“With all dance groups signed up, they keep an eye on each other,” Xu said. “As a result, everyone observes the rules.”

Community volunteers still patrol the area every evening.

“We hardly get any complaints from residents these days,” said Huang Yu, an official of Xianghe Mingdi residential committee who oversees volunteer work. “Some people still find the music too loud when they pass by, but when they are at home, they don’t hear it much.”

The property management company, the residential committees and the government of Changzheng say that dance groups that repeatedly violate the agreement will be banned from the street.

The new rules have taken their toll. Regular dancers on Meichuan Road now number only about 200.

Cheng Chuping, vice head of Changzheng’s office of environmental protection, said the key to the success rests with the cooperation of all parties.

“We had a similar agreement before, but it didn’t work because there was no mechanism to ensure its implementation,” he said. “But now we’re all on board.”

Similar changes are happening elsewhere, including Zhoupu in the Pudong New Area. The main square of the Huiteng community there is filled with dancers every evening, but the fun stops at 8pm instead of the previous 10pm. Volume is not allowed to exceed 70 decibels. Community volunteers use a phone app with a decibel meter to keep the noise down.

A small garden with sound insulation walls was built between the dance square and residential buildings to reduce the noise pollution.

The prime mover of the change was Xu Mingmin, a community police officer from Zhoudong Police Station. He said the principal purpose is to balance the interests of different community elements through communication.

Xu said he was struck by the emotions of the dancers during negotiations. They accused him of “not letting them dance.” Some of them, he learned later, are cancer patients.

“I visited those people at home and told them that my own father also has cancer, and I totally understand their desire to live as happy a life as they can,” he said. “But they can’t do that at the expense of their neighbors’ peace of mind.”