Chinese Teacher Adds A New Twist To Mandatory Fitness Regimen

A physical education teacher at a northern Chinese secondary school has achieved what most would consider two virtually impossible feats. He has made exercising fun and managed to get 400 elementary school-aged children with endless energy to dance in synchronization.

The teacher’s name is Zhang Gunnan. In early 2018, a video of Zhang leading over 100 of his elementary students in the dance style “shuffling”. In 2019, he is making another appearance with a viral video of the teacher leading 400 of his students to famed reggaeton artist’s Daddy Yankee’s 2018 hit song “Dura”.

In the video, the children are having loads of fun as they get in their government-mandated exercise. China takes physical health and wellness quite seriously as the government has called for mandatory and regular short exercise periods for all primary through secondary school students since 1951. The default route to this requirement that most schools in China follow is a workout routine focusing on calisthenics that is broadcasted throughout the country. The routine is straightforward in its instruction while improving the flexibility, strength, and agility of the children. On the other hand, the routines are considerably rigid- at least that is what Zhang Gunnan figured.

In an interview with the Beijing News, Zhang states: “Under the influence of social media and the internet, many students find the traditional calisthenics programme really tedious and boring”. He was further inspired as the gap that the internet and social media platforms bridges between cultures led him to come across the #DuraChallenge that became a global sensation. The challenge featured people sharing their choreography on various social media platforms to the song by Puerto Rican reggaeton artist and rapper, Daddy Yankee.

After drawing inspiration from other peoples’ challenge videos from around the globe, Zhang was able to form and teach all 400 of his students the choreography over the course of two weeks. It is evident that his students enjoy their new exercise routine as every move is punctuated with big grins and exuding overwhelming amounts of energy that match their teacher’s level of enthusiasm.

In terms of physical and wellness benefits, the students are able to enjoy the calisthenics benefits of dancing by improving their agility and even flexibility- but Zhang’s method of dance as exercise helps to improve the children’s cardio.

Zhang also finds that opting for fun dances like the #DuraChallenge and shuffling benefits student-teacher relationships. He believes that engaging students in activities where both parties find enjoyment as opposed to obligation help to bridge the generational gaps between teachers and their students. Thus fostering a new environment where both party’s needs are met. The adult instructors are able to have an easier time connecting with their students. The children on the other hand still look to their instructors as leaders all the while feeling closer to and understood by their teachers.

But Zhang is not the only instructor in China with the same idea. In January of 2019, a similar video went viral of a principal from a secondary school in the Shanxi province had the idea of replacing the government’s calisthenics routine with a fun dance routine. In the viral video, you can see the principal energetically leading his 700 students in a choreographed routine of the “ghost shuffle”.

While the importance of health and wellness for the body is stressed across the globe, many people have a difficult time finding a fitness regimen that fulfills them without feeling tedious and boring. In the case of China as a whole, it is understood that it is best to find a fitness regimen while young for present health and to instill a routine of exercise for the future. Zhang Gunnan and the principal from the Shanxi province also understand who they are teaching wellness habits to- which are young children. For children, they respond best to what they find as fun. However, this method can also apply to a much older crowd around the world.

For some, the best exercise is routines that don’t feel like you’re working out at all.

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