Beijing: In China, where children are often saddle with a tight schedule of activities outside the home before they even enter elementary school, some parents make room for a surprising pursuit: hip-hop dance classes.
In a dance studio in central Beijing, a bunch of kids jumped up and beat to beat American hip-hop as they imitated their teacher, a young dark blue cap and loose clothes.
Some of them practiced seriously – bending their arms simply – while others giggled, treating the class more like playing.
"I want my son to be more extroverted, the children are not lacking today," explained Liu Li, whose son, a shy four-year-old boy with a big smile, has just started taking dance lessons at FunkAsista this year.
It is not uncommon for young children like three to take piano lessons, piano classes and other traditional activities after school in China, where the pressure to compete with other students can be great.
But Liu wanted something different for her son, who often struggled to feel comfortable in groups.
"I want to encourage him to be more lively and carefree," said the 36-year-old.
Although the scene of China's emerging street dance began to take root in the early 2000s, thanks in part to the Korean youth group. – It was not until recently that style burst into mainstream culture.
Underground street dancers were crammed into the limelight after several television competitions featuring famous judges, such as China Street Dance, exploded.
Young parents like Liu see the contemporary dance style as a treatment for internalization, while others see it as a form of hip exercise or even an alternative way of life that encompasses self-expression at the expense of traditional social norms.
"All the parents want their daughters to behave well and find stable work, and then they will find a good husband, get married and have children," said Yeh Shain, a 25-year-old dancer.
She moved to Beijing in May to continue dancing full-time, shaking off her gig from 9 to 5 in a government office in Hebei Province. Her parents were unhappy.
"They did not agree, but I'm willing to push back," she said. "They do not pay for my living expenses, so what I want is not their burden."
No humming, however, brought movement towards actual dance on the street, with most aspiring dancers practicing within the boundaries of a studio instead.
There are over 5,000 street dance studios in China, according to local media reports relying on data from the National Dance Association.
The association also developed a level-based certification test for street dancing – although many dancers feel that the system is contrary to street culture.
"I personally feel that certification testing is not useful because street dancing comes from the street," said Van Loon, who started street dancing in 2001 and founded the FunkAista in 2016.
"There is no concept of" levels ".
While street culture elsewhere – including rap and graffiti – is often used to expose social ailments or dissatisfaction with the status quo in China, where tattoos and even make-up can be considered politically sensitive or inappropriate, there seems little chance of it happening.
Earlier this year, high-profile rap musicians from "Rap of China" faced criticism of explicit song lyrics and tattoos.
In mid-January a leaking government directive banned air time for "artists with tattoos, hip-hop music" and other content "conflicting" with the party's morality.
Zhang Yanfeng, a well-known street dancer in China, said he had to remove his make-up before stepping on stage during a dance competition on television.
"On TV shows, you can not show tattoos" and "men can not dress like women," said Zhang Asher Dance Workshop, T.I. Studio, hangs a large rainbow flag in its lobby, and boasts of being a LGBT friendly space.
"All people today are" very accepting "of the street culture, even if the regulators of the media in China are not, he said, adding that he thinks it best to avoid high profile competitions because" you can not be yourself anyway. "
Others in China's street dance community agree.
"As long as you are not on stage, you have freedom of expression," said Lian Jiulong, "bboy", who has been dancing in China for 15 years.
In 2017, Lian helped organize and judge a television program called "Dance Awakening". All music used in the show had to be approved before launch.
"These are the circumstances in China," he said.