The Phenomenon of 砂舞/莎莎舞 (Friction Dance) in China

A few years ago, a unique form of dance, known as 砂舞 or 莎莎舞, was at its height in China, particularly in Chengdu. Translated as “friction dance,” this dance has its roots in underground dance halls, originally referred to as “dark dance halls” or “洞洞舞厅” (cave dance halls), owing to their initial establishment in air-raid shelters and similar underground structures.

The essence of the dance involves partners holding each other closely, engaging in sensuous and rhythmic bodily contact, especially in the lower region. The close and constant rubbing has earned the dance its moniker, as the movement is likened to the grinding action of sandpaper. Over the past few decades, this dance has witnessed varying degrees of evolution.

In its early stages, especially during the 2010s, friction dance was more of an affordable pastime predominantly patronized by working class men. Dance halls in eastern cities like Suzhou and Shanghai, known as “黑舞” or “dark dance”, experienced a significant surge in popularity between 2011 and 2015. This era saw the blossoming of the dance form with dark dance halls often switching between well-lit and completely dark environments. The alternating ambiance allowed participants to engage in a variety of intimate activities – including sex on the dance floor.

The pricing model for these dances was straightforward – male patrons would typically pay an entrance fee, followed by a fee for each dance, determined by the duration of the song. Over the years, the pricing has seen an upward shift, especially in places like Chengdu, which is believed by many to be the origin or “capital” of friction dance.

However, as with many entertainment forms that tread the lines of social norms, the friction dance faced scrutiny and pushback. Starting from 2016, measures were implemented to regulate the activities in these dance halls, driven by concerns over illicit activities and maintaining public decorum. Such regulations encompassed a ban on complete darkness in the dance halls, attire guidelines for the dancers, and stringent checks on paid escort services. The enforcement of these regulations led to a decline in the popularity of dark dance halls, resulting in many establishments shutting down, particularly in Eastern China.

Leave a Comment