BEIJING, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- Chen Guohua, 64, a lover of square dancing, no longer worries about finding a dance venue where she will not disturb the neighbors.
As performers in the 80-minute drama, "50/60 Dance Theater with Dama," Chen and five other Chinese "dama" (a Chinese term for middle-aged and elderly women) have danced in Penghao Theater in downtown Beijing for the past year, and even performed on the international stage in October's Vie Festival in Bologna, Italy.
"At first, we only took the play as a pastime and a way of doing exercise. None of us ever anticipated performing in Italy," said Tian Ying, a 63-year-old performer. "I think few retirees can do what we are doing now."
From public squares to public theaters, these dama are more than just square dancers -- dancers using simple movements to popular songs, incredibly popular throughout China -- their body language tells the life story of a generation of women born in the 1950s.
The choreography includes pieces of Beijing opera, ballroom dancing and even daily chores; simple but unique, the movements draw on modern German dance, ballet and Chinese folk dance.
All six performers were members of their community dance troupes for retired residents, but none of them had ever received professional training before.
It was Wang Mengfan, a 26-year-old director, and her young team that led these dancing dama to the theater. "Square dancing introduced me to them and inspired me," Wang said.
While shooting a documentary film about square dancing two years ago, Wang found that the dancing was only a small part of these women's lives.
"They are beautiful in many ways," Wang said. "The play presents the different facets of their beauty."
The play premiered at the sixth Beijing Nanluoguxiang Performing Arts Festival in Penghao Theater in July last year.
"It is an interesting idea to bring ordinary people, like these dama, into the theater," said Xie Pang, PR manager of Penghao Theater."The idea fits with Penghao's aim to draw common people nearer art. That's why we included it in the festival."
As one of the leading private theaters in China, Penghao is popular among young theater lovers, many of whom are theater students and well-educated white collar workers.
The tickets for these dama's debut sold out, and due to popular demand they gave three more performances in September last year.
At that time, Pietro Valenti, art director of Vie Festival, was on a visit to Penghao, and on seeing the play he immediately decided to invite them to perform in Italy.
However, the performance had more than its fair share of difficulties. Wang described it as "a negotiation between the young twenty-something professionals and the aging amateur performers."
Rehearsals started in March last year. At first, the elderly performers did not understand Wang's work and acting methods.
Counter to what they knew, the performers were told to move at different speeds in different sections of the play, at Wang's suggestion. The dama found it difficult to find the right rhythm at first, and when they did, it felt awkward.
Sometimes the dancers were required to take on a certain mood, but they were not familiar with the specific movements to show happiness or sadness.
To solve these problems, Wang and her team bonded with the dancers, repeatedly explaining and demonstrating what they needed from them. They even ate, shopped and hung out together after rehearsals.
"To gain their trust, we needed to communicate with them in their daily lives," Wang said. "Twenty percent of the work depends on choreographing and directing, while the other 80 percent comes from the interaction among us."
During the rehearsal, Wang also interviewed the dama about their lives, collecting material for her creation.
Gradually, the dama got the hang of the play, and were even able to offer some helpful advice to the professionals. Chen even designed some of the movements, such as the combing and dressing actions in part of the play.
Wang and the dama gave three performances in Italy from October 14 to 16. For several months, they practiced for almost five or six hours every day.
Although they loved their retired lives, the intense rehearsal took up a lot of their time. But Chen said that the performers were all supported by their families. "My husband took on all the chores for me to concentrate on the play," Chen said, grinning.
After returning from Italy for several weeks, Chen looks back with pride at what they achieved.
"I'm very happy to have had this novel experience with our young team, " she said. "I think for those foreign artists and audiences, we were special, too. As amateur eldery Chinese performers, we told them a story that could never have been told by anyone else."