While searching the Chinese internet for information for an article I’m writing on several important ballrooms in 1920s-30s Shanghai, I came across this article today, and found it to be such a good synopsis of the history of dancing that I decided (with some help from Google translate) to make an English translation of the article and post it on my website. Here is the English version. The original Chinese version can be found on this website.
During my leisure time, I often go out and stroll around casually, and I find that Shanghai is now full of people dancing in public places. Is this a sign of a cultural decline? Once upon a time, for the Shanghainese, didn’t dancers always go to the dance hall?! If you don't know the history of the ballroom, I am afraid you don't know what is modern, what is called Shanghai style.
The history of the Shanghai people’s “Bump and Rub” [dancing] was started with the opening of the [treaty port].
Although social dance, like horse racing, is definitely a Western custom, this fact did not prevent the Chinese from embracing it warmly and treating it as a fashion. According to reports at the time, in the early 1920s, when the first batch of dance halls opened, the Shanghainese immediately flocked to watch. And popular magazines like "Linglong" [a Chinese women’s magazine], in addition to articles on movies and movie stars, also introduced social dance in three phases.
Located in the Paris Hotel on Tibet Road, the “Black Cat Ballroom” was the first independently operated ballroom in Shanghai. After that, the [dance] palaces of the Moon Palace, Majestic Ballroom, Anle Palace, and Santa Anna opened. In the 1930s, Shanghai’s economy was unusually prosperous, the extravagant winds prevailed, and the dance industry developed rapidly. Tibet Road was also known as the “Dance Floor Road”.
In the 1930s, Paramount, Metropole, Ciro’s, and New Zealand became the most representative ballrooms at that time, and they were called the “Four Great Dance Halls” of Shanghai. Among them, Shanghai shall never forget the Paramount. In 1932, Chinese businessman Gu Liancheng invested 700,000 taels of silver to build the ballroom known as the "Premier Entertainment Palace in the East". The largest dance floor was more than 500 square meters. There was also a small dance floor above the big dance floor that could be divided freely for dancers and dances. The floor of the dance floor was supported by car steel plates and was flexible [sprung dance floor].
Speaking of this elastic floor, there is a popular word in Shanghai gossip, "elastic girl" --where did the word come from? The dancer is called "dancing girl" in English, and pigeon English in Shanghai is called "elastic girl". “Flexible girl” often dominates the fate of the ballroom. For this reason, Paramount established a strict system of accompanying dances. It was stipulated that only the “elastic girl” who passed the assessment and was issued the dance certificate could enter the Paramount to dance. This guaranteed the interests and safety of the “elastic girl” and the dancers.
Ask the old Shanghainese again, where is the "octagonal hall"? They will definitely answer you, "The Metropole Ballroom."
The ballroom was built by Guangdong businessman Jiang Yaozhang on Gordon Road (now Jiangning Road, near Nanjing West Road) in 1934, and immediately became one of the "landmarks" of Jing'an nightlife. At that time, the "top dance hall" was not that called casually. For the Metropole, the main feature was a self-contained architectural style with luxurious hard and soft decoration. Secondly, it had to have the best band. The Metropole band was not from The Western Ocean but from the South Sea (the Philippines mostly).
The most important thing is to have a hot dancing girl. The hot dancing girl is a mouth-watering "signature dish" who attracts diners. When their customers were many, the dancers were busy "turning tables" all night. It was said that the income of a good "elastic girl" could be more than ten times that of the middle-level staff of the ballroom. The development of the “elastic girl” team stimulated and promoted the development of the Shanghai ballroom industry.
While the café was mainly a place where “superior Chinese”, foreigners and writers and artists visited, the dance hall entertained various levels [of society] and become popular in the public imagination. Legend has it that the writer Mu Shiying frequented such a dance hall called Moon Palace and there he pursued a dancer and eventually she became his wife. It is no wonder that in his novels, many backgrounds are always ballrooms.
For more than a decade after the 1930s, there had been a "big development" for Shanghai's "dance industry". By 1946, there were 3,300 dancers. At that time, there was no concept of tickets in the ballroom. The guests mainly paid for tea. The price of tea in the big ballroom was about 1.4 yuan per cup, the mid-range ballroom’s price was 0.8-1 yuan, and the price in the small ballroom was 0.5-0.6 yuan. (calculated by silver dollar price).
However, in 1947, the Nanjing National Government issued a decree prohibiting the opening of the ballroom on the grounds of “harmful customs and promoting thrift”, namely the “ban dance order”. Wang Yunwu, the vice president of the Executive Yuan led this decree. Why did he detest dancing girls? According to gossip, his son-in-law liked to frequent dance halls and fool around with the girls. So he vowed to end the "dancing girl" line.
The embattled "dance industry" personnel marched on the streets in January  1948 to protest, and even rioted at the then Shanghai Social Affairs Bureau (later it became Lele Middle School and it is now Huaihai Road’s Central Plaza). The parading crowd was beaten by military police and more than 400 people were arrested, which led to a "dancing case" that shocked the country. Later, under the pressure of the society, the authorities cancelled the order to “immediately ban dance” and released the relevant detainees.
The lifestyle of "if you can't dance, you are not Shanghainese" came to an end after 1949.
The people's government has carried out reformations of prostitutes and dancers of the old Shanghai, allowing them to support themselves and seek a new life. Under the impact of the new society and new ideas, the once-famous dance halls finally declined. The first one to be completely closed was the “Great Eastern Ballroom”.
However, such good facilities like the "Big Four" can't be idle. So they changed, like the Metropole Ballroom, which was transformed into a "Jingyuan Bookstore" in 1954, where people performed Suzhou Pingtan.
"Bumb and rub” means to dance, so what did people dance then? "Collective dances" brought over by "the old brother of the Soviet Union". At the same time as the dance halls were being transformed [into cultural palaces], collective dance as a mass dance activity became a trend. From 1952 to 1956, in factories, enterprises, schools, military units, and Lanes, there were many people dancing in group dances during festivals, even in peacetime and on weekends. There was a collective dance fever. In the 1952 National Day Gala, there were more than 100,000 people dancing together in the group dance.
When it comes to the "cultural revolution", you can’t call it "Bump and Rub", the collective dance has been replaced by another dance: "Loyalty dance", most of the soundtrack [to dancing] was related to the theme of loyalty [to the Party], like "The sea sails by the helmsman" and songs such as "Devotion to Chairman Mao"... After the reform and opening [c. 1980], people discovered through the history that when they were monotonous and thought imprisoned, some people in the deep walls of the courtyard still "Bumb and Rub". It is estimated that this is called the "gap", hehe.
As soon as the reform and opening period began, people began to bid farewell to the monotonous cultural life. In the early 1980s, ballroom dancing began to rise in the domestic university campus, and gradually extended to institutions and communities. Dancing once again became fashionable. On July 14, 1984, the Communist Youth League Shanghai Committee provided communication opportunities for the young unmarried youth, and the first public return to the ballroom dance at the Shanghai Exhibition Center was a sensation.
In the late 1980s, a large number of dance halls re-emerged. The “Ciro’s” of the Great World and the “Metropole” of Jiangning Road regained their reputation in Shanghai. According to conservative statistics, as of 1987, Shanghai had more than 300 dance halls and music cafes, ranking first in the country, with an average attendance rate of 70%.
At this time, the dance floor couldn't be described by dancing. It was more like dozens of dances. It was a "human flesh bumper car". It didn't involve touching the shoulders, but rather bumping elbows. "One, two, three" tempo. The dancers usually came by themselves. The male dancers were more sophisticated, they would wear shirts, and then they would be dressed in suits.
At the time, this craze injected a little lubricant and vitality into the tense interpersonal relationships and peaceful life. However, it didn't take long for the trend to fade out.
Then what became popular was the DISCO ballroom. The disco was once a young man of the 1980s, knowing a window of pop music. When Gao Lingfeng died, the first program of Dongguang 101.7 once sighed: "There is no high Lingfeng, how lonely the ballroom in the 1980s will be" - this is true. Until 2000, the disco gradually withdrew from people's attention.
Today's dance halls are not too high (often in high-end hotels), that is, the facilities are too bad. Think about how the Shanghainese people once pursued an exquisite lifestyle. It’s really quite pathetic to see these old folks now dancing in public squares. What about the past aesthetics? Whatever happened to "denying oneself and returning to propriety"?