'Don't try this at home': The dance craze taking over Chinese social media

Dancers in CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala show off elegant and demanding backbends. The moves - labelled “blue green waist” - have prompted many on Chinese social media to try and recreate them.

China has just come up with its own version of the Limbo.

"Blue-green waist", or qingluyao, is trending as a search phrase and fitness fad in the country after an all-female traditional dance troupe wowed the audience at the annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala with elegant and demanding backbends.

The television extravaganza, a Lunar New Year ritual for many in the country, featured a segment from a sold-out dance show which made its debut in August 2021 at Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts.

Choreographed by Zhou Liya and Han Zhen, two rising stars in China's dance theatre world, Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting is based on one of the most famous classical Chinese paintings of all time: Wang Ximeng's A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains.

The undated scroll, now kept at The Palace Museum in Beijing, is the only painting in existence by the Song dynasty artist, who lived nearly a thousand years ago.

It is considered an exemplary example of a "blue-green landscape" because of how Wang used the two colours to highlight an extensive mountain range.

Dancers led by the regal Meng Qingyang swayed and whirled in blue and green against a golden backdrop during the Jan 31 New Year's Eve gala, which CCTV said was viewed by nearly 1.3 billion people around the world.

Dancers during the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. PHOTO: CCTV

Online comments included many that applauded the "Chinese aesthetics" and "cultural confidence" that the show was seen to embody, in line with the nationalistic promotion of Chinese heritage that lies at the heart of President Xi Jinping's goal of "rejuvenating China".

At the same time, the dancers' crane-like forms, amplified by elongated headgear, set China's Twitter-like Weibo platform ablaze when they bent sideways and backwards uniformly in a show of flexibility and strength. Meng stole the limelight by doing 90-degree bends effortlessly.

Soon, questions such as "What is blue-green waist?" and "How do you train for a blue-green waist?" appeared, with many people posting "blue-green waist challenges" on Bilibili, China's version of TikTok, including some comically unsuccessful efforts.

It has even prompted "don't try this at home" warnings from orthopaedic doctors.

Meanwhile, government-run CCTV has managed to harness the popularity of #qingluyao in its promotion of the Beijing Winter Olympics, while also giving a nod to warming Sino-Russian ties.

A video published by its sports desk shows Meng showing off her "blue-green waist" followed by footage of Russian freestyle skater Alexandra Trusova doing her signature cantilever, which her Chinese fans refer to as the "crab move".

A screen capture from the CCTV video comparing Alexandra Trusova’s cantilever (left) with Meng Qingyang’s “blue green waist”. PHOTO: WeChat

"The 'blue-green waist' is awe-inspiring, but Trusova's 'crab move' is no less impressive!" the post read.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.