Chen Yun-yuan, Ph.D. candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
Under Japanese rule, Taiwan underwent rapid modernization in the first half of the twentieth century. Signs of modernity were everywhere – in the way that people dressed, in how they thought of themselves and the world, in the organization of their cities. One manifestation of modernization was in the music industry, which for a brief period in the 1930s experienced what has come to be known as the Dance Age.
Though still remembered fondly by those who experienced it, the Dance Age has been largely forgotten. Now, thanks to Viva Tonal: The Dance Age, a 2003 documentary by directors Kuo Chen-ti and Chien Wei-ssu, modern Taiwanese viewers – and the rest of the world – can experience this unique moment in Taiwan’s history.
Performed by popular singer Sun-sun, the Taiwanese-language hit “Dance Age” was composed by the Teng U-hian (Deng Yuxian) – “the godfather of Taiwanese folk music” – with lyrics by Chen Chun-yu. The song centers on the modern woman of the 1930s as she boldly seeks to build a new world and find true love.
The lyrics celebrate free love, the upbeat melody a bright contrast to the gloomy reality of colonialism: “I’m a modern girl, free to roam the world;” “I only know the modern age, unfettered love is all the rage;” “men and women, pair-by-pair, dance away without a care!”
Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTV) revived the memory of this bygone era in 2012 with The Songs of Soil, a musical celebration of “Dance Age” writers Teng and Chen, and other leading figures of the time – singers Sun-sun and Ai-ai, composer Yao Zanfu, and lyricist Lee Lim-chhiu (Li Linqiu). More than simply a tribute to the music and the people who made it, the series recreates the golden age of Taipei’s Dadaocheng district and the resplendence of an all but forgotten era.