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Chinese hot pot chain Haidilao puts viral dance on menu

By Chris Lau, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — What is better than a warming meal of hot pot? A catchy dance routine to go with the Chinese cuisine, according to hot pot chain Haidilao.

Haidilao, China’s largest hot pot chain, has recently offered a new dance performance as part of the dining experience across its 1,400 branches.

The chain – known for popularizing the Chinese eating culture where diners enjoy fresh ingredients by scalding them in a variety of soup bases – also has more than 100 stores across the world, including 13 branches in the US.

Videos of staff springing into the “kemusan” – or “subject number three” dance – while guests eat has become the latest internet sensation on Chinese social media.

The routine is widely believed to originate from a wedding dance in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi.

The dance involves performers swinging their knees sideways as they perform a snappy series of hand actions, including rapid-fire wrist-twisting moves.

The mesmerizing dance is done to music that sounds like a mix of Western disco beats and traditional Chinese folk singing.

To “unlock” the new service, diners have to utter the code word “kemusan” to the servers, according to anecdotes posted online.

The dance has become an instant sensation. In videos posted on social media, some diners seem to enjoy it so much that they join staff in the performance.

“Kemusan” isn’t Haidilao’s first viral hit— the chain’s signature noodle dance became an instant classic around a decade ago. That dance involves stretching dough into noodle ribbons while gracefully twirling the long strands around with grand sweeping motions.

Tacky squirming?

Not everyone finds the Haidilao dancing cute. The act has started a debate online, with some calling it a “low” promotional tactic.

It all started with a comment on a local Chinese online forum.

A mother complained that she was annoyed by the “tacky squirming dance” following a recent meal with her family at one of the branches, according to Jimu News, a state-affiliated news outlet.

Her comment quickly spiraled into a fierce debate online, topping the search terms on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Monday. Since then, the thread has been viewed more than 10 million times.

One online influencer, with 740,000 followers, called the dance “exploitation.”

“The staff no longer show any emotions, looking very stiff after performing kemusan. That’s too much effort,” he wrote on Weibo.

A spokesman from Haidilao told CNN that the company has been encouraging branches to innovate and financially reward staff for their hard work.

“The company will also provide corresponding incentives for employees who can gain customer recognition,” Haidilao said, though it stopped short of responding to online criticism.

The company did not comment on reports that some branches have stopped offering the dance in the wake of the recent debate.

Since opening in 1994, Haidilao has become known for its unconventional approach to attracting customers.

Staff members in colorful masks sometimes perform traditional Chinese opera in front of diners, even in branches in the US and Britain.

The chain also offers free drinks refills and snacks, and complimentary manicures, shoe shines and fruit plates for diners waiting to be seated.

And since hot pot is considered a communal experience, the restaurants sometimes offer plush toys as companions for solo diners.

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