UCL Department of Geography


Yidan Cao

Research Title

Time-space Routines, Materiality and Co-existing Others: Exploring Everyday Practice of Square Dancing in Public Spaces in Shanghai

More about Yidan

Academic Background

  • 2015-2019 BS (Agri.) in Landscape Architecture, Northwest A&F University
  • 2019-2022 MSc in Landscape Science, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  • 2023-Present PhD Student in Human Geography, UCL

Work Background

Teaching Assistant, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the School of Design, 2019-2021:

  • ‘Studio of Landscape Architecture’ (Course Code: GA340) for BS in Landscape Architecture
  • ‘Landscape Planning and Design’ (Course Code: LA6201) for Master of Landscape Architecture
  • Cao, Y., & Tang, X. (2022). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Community Public Open Space Renewal: A Case Study of the Ruijin Community, Shanghai. Land, 11, 476. https://doi.org/10.3390/land11040476
  • Cao, Y., Liu, C., & Tang, X. (2021). Factors Related to Walking Behavior of the Elderly in Urban Residential Green Spaces During COVID-19. The AHFE Conference 2021 (EI Compendex), In (pp. 569-577). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-80744-3_71
Research Interests

I am interested in people’s everyday practice in public spaces and their embodied experiences.   Drawing on Shanghai as the research site, my project focuses on square dancing (guangchangwu, 广场舞), one of the most popular yet controversial collective fitness activities in China, mainly participated by older people in public open spaces, such as parks, squares and open grounds outside subway stations.

This project aims to understand how people’s everyday lives are woven into urban public spaces through this self-organised daily activity, employing qualitative methods.  In doing so, three facets: time-space routines, materials, and co-existing people will be considered. More specifically, I will explore how participants construct their dancing routine, what topographic features and materiality of the specific public spaces support the occurrence and continuation of the daily practice, and how the interactions between dancers and others who are co-present in the same space. 

Through those explorations, this study might be able to add to the academic discussion about collective leisure activities, provide embodied insights into the materiality of square dancing in China and complement the ethnographic accounts about "others", which lack concerns in current research. Furthermore, it could give practical suggestions to policymakers, urban planners and landscape architects to build intriguing urban public spaces and a sustainable urban environment for the animation of people’s everyday lives. In addition, this research may have the potential to advise the face of the ageing of the global population and the construction of equal and age-friendly cities.

Research Grants, Prizes and Awards

Scholarships and Awards

  • China National Scholarship, 2017 and 2018
  • Shanghai Outstanding Graduated Student Award, 2022

Design Competitions and Others

  • Grand Prize, ‘Walking in Shanghai: Effectiveness of Public Open Spaces Governance in Old Communities in a High-density City’, the ‘Zhixing Cup’ in the Shanghai College Student Social Practice Project Competition, 2021
  • Third Prize, ‘Feather in Bamboo’, the Design Competition for 2020 Chengdu Park City International Garden Season and the 3rd BFU International Garden-Making Week, 2020