Keep calm and continue dancing

Libin (my husband) and I had great fun this weekend at Swing Time Ball (STB) Beijing. With workshops at days and party at nights, at the end of the weekend we could barely stand on our feet. But when the band started to play the next song, we couldn’t resist to hit the dance floor for another round.

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While I was dancing, sometime some strange ideas floated into my mind, such as ‘what is the environmental cost of this event’, or ‘how to make it more sustainable’. One main reason is this week’s reading material is all about sustainable consumption. Well, more than 200 people travelled to Beijing to dance the weekend away—is there a way to make sense of sustainable consumption in this case?

Let’s look at what makes a success STB. People is a critical element, as dancing is all about people. Dancers and bands need to travel to Beijing and stay for the weekend, and they need water and food to pump through 60 hours. Venue is another critical element. The event uses one grand ball room, and two smaller rooms for workshops. The ball room need some basic set up of lighting, audio and decorations. Besides from that, an online communication and payment system is necessary, to make the event running smoothly.

I think that’s it. Honestly speaking, I am surprised at the material list. Of course what makes the event really successful is the excellent music, fantastic dancing skills, and great passion for swing dance.

Another thing surprised me is, the STB has done a great job in making the event sustainable, probably even without thinking of the term ‘sustainability’. The event is organized at low budget, so the decoration is quite minimum, and most materials were rented from agencies so that they will be recycled for future uses (for example, an Inflatable Swimming Pool with colourful balls serves as photo background). Even though it is minus 2 degree this weekend in Beijing, indoor heating is not needed because of the many people dancing in the room, which saves a lot of energy. There is no paper handout, as everything is communicated online through Wechat or Whatapp. The venue is at city centre, only 7 mins walk from the airport express and main train stations, and there are plenty of budget hotels and Airbnb to choose from. As the schedule is very tight, people often grab a wrap from convenient stores nearby, instead of having fancy food for lunch and dinner (and eating too much will not help you dance well). Water is available at ball room and people are encouraged to bring their own water bottles, or to write their names on the paper cups so that they can reuse them. Costume can be a bit tricky, but the organizer promotes wearing vintage clothes and there are a few nice second-hand clothes stores can get dancers prepared for the parties, which in other words, promotes ‘slow fashion’.

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Of course there are always room for improvement, such as using an energy efficient venue (i.e. a LEED certified building or 3Star Certified building in China), encouraging participants to offset their travel carbon emission, choosing local food suppliers, etc. But if we took a look at the amount of positive social impacts generated from the event (through meeting new and old friends, learning new dancing moves, expressing yourself with music, etc.),  the event has unlocked an overwhelming amount of mind and body fulfilment, with reasonable amount of environmental impact.

Let’s put it into context: STB was at the weekend of Nov 11, and Nov 11 is also known as the ‘Single’s Day’ in China, which the biggest online shopping festival. A new shopping record has been set this year, that 1.5 Billion USD sales has been achieved in the first three minutes of Nov 11 (from 0:00 to 0:03).  Alibaba (biggest online sales platform in China) reported at the end of Nov 11 that it has rang up 17.8 billion USD in that single day. It’s hard to argue that the $ 17.8B USD spending will not bring more happiness than the low cost STB event, but when it comes to the ‘efficiency’ of creating happiness, I would say events like STB are surely more ‘efficient’.

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The Alibaba Group annual Singles’ Day online shopping event, held this year in Shenzhen, China, on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg. Photo from Forb

Sales of Single’s Day surely contributes more to the national GDP, and for this reason, it is widely recognized by the public and heavily promoted to the public. This rings anther bell in my mind: the concept of ‘Buddhism Economics’ that I came across from E. F. Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful.

“Buddhist economics aims to clear the confusion about what is harmful and what is beneficial in the range of human activities involving the production and consumption of goods and services, ultimately trying to make human beings ethically mature.”

—Payutto, Ven. P. A. “Buddhist Economics – A Middle Way for the Market Place”

The Bhutan government has taken this concept and developed Gross National Happiness (GNH), as a counter measurement to the commonly used GDP. There are nine elements under GNH: psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

If using this framework, the social value of STB will be better justified, rather than using GDP.

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Slogan on a wall in Thimphu’s School of Traditional Arts

Because of STB, I missed the online shopping day at Nov 11, without realizing it till the next day, but I don’t regret it at all. Dancing brings a different kind of happiness, which cannot be obtained from shopping. Instead of trying to convince consumers to shop less, shop slowly, shop consciously and sustainably, maybe it is easier to bring them to a swing dance ball (or other events you like!) and make them fall in love with a low-cost hobby. By spending time together and having good fun, maybe that’s another ‘efficient’ option of creating positive social impacts (without expanding the environmental footprint!)

So keep calm and continue dancing!

(On the other hand, online shopping & sustainable consumption would also be a very interest research topic…just a thought!).

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