How weird can it be to watch a tech executive dance in public? Weird enough for the person himself to label it “NSFW” (not safe for work).
That’s what Tesla CEO Elon Musk did when he shared a video on Twitter of him busting out some awkward moves during the launch of the Model Y electric vehicle in Shanghai on Tuesday.
During the dance, Musk stripped off his jacket on stage to show off a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of his Tesla Gigafactory in China. The performance was soon trending on Weibo under the hashtag “Elon Musk’s weird dance.”
But Musk is hardly the only big tech boss who’s tried to woo China with his dancing. In fact, some of the country’s biggest tech founders have been displaying their dancing skills for years, with varying degrees of success.
Before Musk, another foreign tech boss took to the stage and managed to impress the audience by dancing disco and singing in Chinese. Xiaomi’s former global vice president Hugo Barra showed up at a launch event in Taiwan in full 1970s garb, performing a hit from Taipei pop star Wu Bai for fans of the smartphone brand.
Xiaomi poached Barra from Google in 2013, but he left the Chinese company in 2017 to head Facebook’s VR division. To the best of our knowledge, he hasn’t worn his dance shoes at a public Facebook event… yet.
Barra’s not even the only Xiaomi executive to dance for fans. Lei Jun, founder of the Beijing-based smartphone brand, has also tried out some of his own dance moves.
Unfortunately, Lei’s attempt to shuffle at the China Entrepreneur Club 2018 meeting wasn’t as brilliant as Barra’s disco. In fact, one of the Weibo comments about the dance was Xiaomi’s unofficial motto: “Are you OK?” The phrase became popular after Lei’s equally memorable attempt to speak English at a launch event in India in 2015.
If Lei Jun proves anything, it’s that Chinese tech founders aren’t scared to take on a new challenge. Even bosses who are known to be reserved in public like Pony Ma, the founder of entertainment and social media empire Tencent, can cut loose when it comes to bonding with employees.
Chinese companies have a habit of making a big deal of their yearly corporate celebrations, which include games and performances. This means that it wasn’t so strange when a video came out featuring one of the richest men in China dancing to a theme song of the hit reality show Produce 101 at one such event.
But some tech bosses in China really put their heart and soul into it. Robin Li, founder of Chinese search company Baidu, appeared on popular TV shows performing the tango. And he didn’t dance in an ordinary company T-shirt like Musk -- he dressed up as a European prince.
“I’m actually a dancer,” Li reportedly once said, as if leading one of China’s largest tech firms was just a side job.
However, none of China’s tech billionaire dancers can compare with Jack Ma, the founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba. One of his more eye-popping performances was at Alibaba’s 2017 annual party, where Ma impersonated Michael Jackson.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)
But Ma isn’t just a dancer. He also starred in his own kung-fu movies, sang at a music festival, married 102 couples, and survived a debate with Elon Musk.
And with Musk leading the way, hopefully we will see more western tech executives busting a move on stage, if not for anything else than to get closer to their Chinese buyers.
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