It is around 9pm, I walk into a park in Taipei, next to Songjiang road, with two friends of mine, and we come across a group of grandmothers training with conviction. They carry umbrellas. There’s about nine of them, and one trainer. While they are performing, I go to the trainer and ask:
“-Wow, that’s a great group, can we take pictures?
-Yes. She pauses. But be quick. We have a competition this week-end!
Well, she doesn’t mean what “quick” means for me when I take picture. Anyway, we start shooting while the umbrellas are flying in all directions. I have time to recognize that there is a lead dancer and the group revolves around them. We shoot as quick as we can-merely the time to set the tripod, change lens, try another lens, make test-pictures, change angle, get… well, you get it, right?
The music is over, the team regroups.
“-Hey, do you want us to make another dance for you? throws one of them
-Yes… we have a competition this saturday! adds another one, let’s keep going…
-…even if we are old, very old, says another one! Look, we are all more than 65!…
-…but we need to practice, because our opponents are doing Belly dancing!…
-…That’s so unfair, they are more sexy than us, sighs another one.
-OK, girls let’s go, no time to waste, summarizes the coach.”
The music starts again. It is dark, not easy to take pictures, so the additional gig is welcome. This time I can observe them more. They are not always in sync, I have to say, but they have great positive energy, and a good rythm. Also, the way they are using their umbrellas is really beautiful. And with practice, they are getting better and better! It is fascinating to see the spectacle take shape.
The dance ends a second time. But according to the teacher, there is a serious need for more practicing. She gathers the team to give a quick feedback, while at the same time one of the grandmother cleverly steps aside to talk to us instead.
“-You know, we have been practicing for a long time!”
She tells us the address of the hall where she is going to perform. She repeats about the belly dancers. Once more, I feel astounded by her vigor, by how happy she looks and how gracefully she can dance. I have met many elders in Taiwan with similar energy, elders dancing together on school yards at 5am, sweeping public parks, practicing qi qong at night, you wouldn’t believe everything elders do here! Some are jogging by the river, while other do what I call with my friends “Zombie walking”, it is a special, extremely slow way to move back and forth on approximately 20 meters for approximately 20 times. Something interesting!
“-Hey, what are you doing there talking, come back and practice!”
That’s really a good coach, I decide. The exercizes start again, time for me to move my camera and go to discuss with another lady, she is way more shy than the first one but practices very seriously and really has a great smile too! I think she’s doing fine and smile back to her!
No, no, no! The coach is not satisfied and comes to correct postures and gestures while, of course, another grandmother uses the opportunity to come talk to us, for what would be a conversation in Taiwan if no one came to ask where I come from and when I am going to get married with my Taiwanese girlfriend! So, now that I have become an expert at addressing this kind of question, I answer with the usual answers and the practicing can continue.
By the way, this article is also a great opportunity for you to read a very detailed article about oil-paper umbrellas, and its signification in Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese culture: click here for the Wikipedia article! Umbrellas are very refined, and of course, the group told me that they would be wearing traditional Qing dynasty clothes to perform.
All in all, talking to this group was a very refreshing experience, something that makes you smile for a while and envy the vigor of elders here, it looks as if life is so cool for them when spent this way! The only thing is that I couldn’t join the performance on Saturday as I wasn’t in Taipei, but my friends went, and told me that unfortunately, they hadn’t won the contest…
Anyway, hope you liked this article, and see you soon on Litanies for a new adventure!