Dancing alone on a platform in the center of a crowded Hong Kong shopping mall, a bespectacled young man smoothly moves and extends his arms, sometimes adding a step, while keeping time to the rhythm of Super Eurobeat songs.

More than 100 people, mostly teenagers, dance along with Richard Tam, synchronized to his every move. A crowd of shoppers watches the dancers, who appear to be transmitting semaphore, participate in the “para para,” a form of Japanese synchronized dancing.

“They look like they’re having fun,” said Sabrina Siu. “I want to learn this dance.

“I think it is good for relieving stress and maybe for losing weight as well,” the 40-year-old secretary shouted over the loud, heavy beat.

To para para fans, this Japanese dance craze is more than rhythmic exercise.

Tam, an electronics engineering graduate student who cofounded the Hong Kong Para Para Dance Association, believes the Japan-originated dance embodies the spirit of team dancing.

“There is an atmosphere of having fun together, whether we know each other or not,” said Tam, popularly known as RT among friends and local para para followers.

Thanks to performances by Japanese pop stars such as heartthrob Takuya Kimura and the six-woman group Para Para All Stars, along with a video arcade game called Para Para Paradise, the dance fad has become popular across Asia.

“Para para is easier to learn than other kinds of dance because it does not demand as much physical strength and skill as break dance or hip hop,” said 25-year-old RT, who learned to para para in October by playing the video game.

But it takes a lot of practice to memorize and master all the hand motions, arm movements and steps for each song — and every song has a different set of moves, he explained.

When not out dancing with friends, Amy Choi, 16, does the dance at home with her mother. “I prefer doing para para in an outdoor environment,” the student said. “It feels good to learn the moves and dance together with so many people. And I don’t have to pay to take part.”

However, in crowded Hong Kong, where strict laws govern public assembly, there are few outdoor venues for groups of para para dancers to perfect their moves.

The dancers originally did the para para at a public space outside the Hong Kong Cultural Center in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. But the government stepped in and banned them from congregating there.

“We used to dance there every Saturday,” RT said. “Our group was getting bigger and bigger. There were about 100 of us. The authorities of the Cultural Center finally became unhappy and told us to leave.”

The government’s heavy-handed move prompted RT and two friends in May to form the Hong Kong Para Para Dance Association. As a group, they are able to rent venues where they can continue to dance. His organization occasionally holds free dance sessions in shopping malls, where dancers are taught the para para movements to new songs.

The popularity of para para in Hong Kong has prompted the government to join in.

From Aug. 12 through the end of this month, the government is running para para dance nights in all 18 districts across the territory, promoting the dance as a form of healthy exercise.

“As para para is presently a very popular dance, (the government) is taking the initiative to organize para para dance nights to meet the public’s needs,” said a spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

The government expects about 6,000 people to take part in the events, which will also include competitions to honor the best team in each district.

Hong Kong’s entertainment industry is also moving to catch up with the dance fad, with some television variety shows running para para dance specials.

Opening in late July, local film “Para Para Sakura” uses the Japanese craze as a draw card. The movie is a love story staring pop singer Aaron Kwok and idol Cecilia Cheung.

A promotional activity for the film saw several thousand local citizens, including the elderly and children, dance the para para together.

But the para para faithful hope the growing popularity of the dance can withstand the hype.

“I want to unite a group of people who really enjoy the dance and are eager to learn more,” RT said. “We will keep doing para para as a pastime. I hope para para will not be just a fashion.”

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