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So You Think Uyghurs Can Dance?

With the so much attention being paid to violence emanating from Xinjiang, many of you may have missed the parade of Uyghur dancers who have taken the stage on the Chinese version of “So You Think You Can Dance” (Zhongguo Hao Wudao). Not only do we have the child star turned adult tap-dancer Yusupjan, the nine-year old break-dancer Surat Taxpolat who goes by the stagename “Little Meatball”, and the teenage break dancer Umid Tursun but we also have the model family of Gulmira Memet a young dance instructor from the Xinjiang Art Institute in Ürümchi.

As in other reality TV shows featuring minority performers – such as the Kazakh performer Tasken on The Voice of China – celebrity judges use the competition stage as platform from which to model minor-to-minor connections and demonstrate the way the diversity of the Chinese population can be seen as an asset rather than a sign of lack.

Jin Xing said “I hope we can create a relationship of grand ethnic solidarity”

It is perhaps with this in mind that Gulmira selected Jin Xing – the Korean-Chinese ballet dancer who is famously transgender – to act as her coach in the contest. But unlike Tasken and A-Mei, Gulmira and Jin Xing’s relationship seems a bit predetermined. Perhaps it was the way the relationship was announced. Jin Xing said “I hope we can create a relationship of grand ethnic solidarity” (1:14). And thus a Uyghur dancer and a transgender Korean instructor demonstrated minzu datuanjie for a cheering audience.

As the narrative of the short clip above shows us, Gulmira also has a model husband and daughter. The imagery shows us that people in Ürümchi are happy and safe (3:00-4:30); that little Uyghur girls are learning Chinese (4:35); and that Uyghur families can dance (5:40).

Some Uyghur viewers of these performances say they think portrayals such as these might reinforce the stereotype that all ethnic minorities do is sing and dance. They feel as though these performers are not necessarily that talented, but instead somehow otherwise met the standards of producers of the show.

But despite these reservations many Uyghurs also seem quite proud to see people from their social position displayed in such a flattering way.

They were the most proud (as this clip of her entire performance shows) of the way Gulmira greeted the audience by first speaking to the audience using the pan-Islamic Arabic greeting Assalam Alaykum before switching to Chinese. And they loved the way she spoke to her daughter in Uyghur and how little 4-year-old Gulnaz won over the crowd by being cute.



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