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May 2, 2010

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Mr Charisma shakes his way to dance hall fame

AFTER starting work as a fruit vendor, Fang Jun couldn't resist the urges of boyhood and devoted himself to professional dancing. The rest is local TV showbiz history, Xu Wei reports.

Fang Jun, a local dancing coach and one of the creators of the current hit TV show "Let's Shake It," has a charisma that inspires people around him.

They get a feeling of bubbling passion from his bright eyes that belies the 40-something age of a man who proclaims himself a "wild fish" or a "greenwood hero."

Fang's career has boomed over the past few decades, rising from fruit vendor in the 1980s to latin dancer as a platform to become a dance school owner.

"It's hard to decide which is my favorite but I don't want to miss a chance to be different and excellent," Fang said.

"My ambition makes me a constant focus of people around me. Some love me while others don't."

Fang discovered his passion for dancing at an early age when he attended a ballroom party at the Paramount Partyroom with relatives.

He felt his legs move spontaneously to what felt like the right rhythms and tempos and from then on he was a frequent visitor to balls and learned basic dance techniques.

In the 1980s, he worked as a fruit vendor at the Shiliupu Wharf where his good negotiation skills combined with hard work earned a monthly income of more than 1,000 yuan (US$146), a big sum at that time.

But in order not to lose his ambition, Fang quit the fruit company and learned dance from the country's professionals.

It was a period, however, when modern dance was not that popular and therefore not prosperous in China.

So Fang decided that studying abroad was the only way for him to acquire the latest and advanced dance concepts and skills.

In 1997, he and his partner Chen Zhao left for London for valuable high-level latin dance trainings from masters in the field.

"I was nervous and depressed knowing the truth that there was a big gap between Chinese dancers and their Western peers," Fang said. "I was so unconfident during that period that I even dyed my hair yellow just to imitate the appearance of Western dancers.

"Not until I was heading back to China did I realize how foolish I was. A good dancer should be different and never lose his own personality."

The training lessons in London cost Fang about 200,000 yuan (US$29,300). Some of his friends joked that if he had spent this amount of money buying property in 1997, he would have become richer.

But Fang still regards his London trip as a rewarding experience which allowed him to get a deeper understanding of dance.

During his dancing career, Fang entered many competitions around the world, such as the Chinese National Dance Sports Competition and England's Blackpool Dance Festival.

He was the second-place winner at the 14th National Dance Sports Competition in 2000 while at the Blackpool Dance Festival in the same year, Fang and his partner Chen progressed to the final round with 48 other couples from the thousands around the world who entered.

Fang's affinity for the TV industry dates back to 2006 when Shanghai Media Group accepted his proposal and launched the first edition of "Let's Shake It."

"During a period when news programs prevailed on local TV, it seemed that we were doing crazy things," Fang said. "But soon the 'adventurous/gambling genes' of mine worked again. I noticed that many local people had a hidden passion for dancing. We had a big fan base, so what we needed then was just a catalyzer."

At first the televised dancing competition inspired by ABC's classic TV show "Dance with the Stars" set out to become a totally Chinese counterpart. But soon its producers gave up the idea because of the high cost and difficulties in arranging time with stars who always had tight schedules.

As a compromise, the show gathered dozens of local TV anchors from different programs. Fang's involvement covered choreography, coaching, costume and lighting design.

"I told the anchors to choose their favorite music from several periods, which helped me know more about their characteristics and interest," Fang recalled.

"In fact, dancing is not all about technique. It is a means of art reflecting the dancer's heart and true emotions."

Fang even encouraged people to tell ingenious stories - sometimes film scenes with varied genres of dance, from tango, waltz, salsa and rumba to latin.

In part thanks to Fang's efforts, the show unexpectedly became a hit program in Shanghai. It also evoked local people's passion for dancing. Even today, the show that is held almost annually is among the city's very few entertainment TV programs that have sustained their popularity.

Fang attributes the show's success partly to its ability to shorten the psychological distance between a TV anchor and the audience.

He notes that before the show started, many TV anchors in the city were quiet and boring on screen. Their involvement in the dance show unveiled an unknown side and more real and glamorous TV anchors emerged.

Fang now works as the show's art director but is also involved in planning, coordination, and the jury team. Fang revealed that this year's new edition of the show, scheduled to start in a couple of months, will strengthen its collaboration with the World Dance Council and include more TV anchors from around the country.

The on-screen competition has not only brought Fang overnight fame and respect, but new chances to break the stereotyped barrier between art and business.

"I will open 10 more professional dancing schools in China by the end of this year," he said.

"I want to tell you a secret. After achieving success in dancing and television planning, my next goal is to appear on the business TV talk show 'Boss Town' as a successful entrepreneur and my chain of dancing schools will be developed to a listed company."

It seems that the ambitious and restless Fang continues to want to make his life a big gamble.

In his words, what "Let's Shake It" represents is the fast spread of a new casual lifestyle and fashion culture in the city, but what the show means to him is a whole new start to his life and the opportunity to discover his unknown talents.

Fang has recently established a charity foundation aimed to financially support gifted young Chinese dancers to take part in international dance competitions.

He and his Hong Kong wife Karen now live in the vicinity of the Expo Park, witnessing its rapid construction and the city's whole-hearted devotion to the pageant.

"People in Shanghai have such a reserved and practical nature which can turn dream into reality," Fang said.

"For me the World Expo is also a good chance to refresh myself. I can get inspired by the creative ideas of its large number of shows and cultural performances, which will be so useful to my future work."


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