China Launches Projects to Build 'New-era' Childbearing Culture

Young participants perform dragon dance during a parade celebrating Tin Hau festival at Yuen Long district, in Hong Kong, China May 12, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik
Young participants perform dragon dance during a parade celebrating Tin Hau festival at Yuen Long district, in Hong Kong, China May 12, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik
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China Launches Projects to Build 'New-era' Childbearing Culture

Young participants perform dragon dance during a parade celebrating Tin Hau festival at Yuen Long district, in Hong Kong, China May 12, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik
Young participants perform dragon dance during a parade celebrating Tin Hau festival at Yuen Long district, in Hong Kong, China May 12, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik

China will launch pilot projects in more than 20 cities to create a "new-era" marriage and childbearing culture to foster a friendly child bearing environment, the latest move by authorities to boost the country's falling birth rate.

China's Family Planning Association, a national body that implements the government's population and fertility measures, will launch the projects to encourage women to marry and have children, state backed Global Times reported on Monday.

Promoting marrying, having children at appropriate ages, encouraging parents to share child-rearing responsibilities, and curbing high "bride prices" and other outdated customs are the focus of the projects, the Times said.
Cities included in the pilot include the manufacturing hub Guangzhou and Handan in China's Hebei province, Reuters reported. The association already launched projects in 20 cities including Beijing last year, the Times said.
"The society needs to guide young people more on the concept of marriage and childbirth," demographer He Yafu told the Times.
The projects come amid a flurry of measures Chinese provinces are rolling out to spur people to have children, including tax incentives, housing subsidies, and free or subsidized education for having a third child.
China implemented a rigid one-child policy from 1980 until 2015 - the root of many of its demographic challenges that have allowed India to become the world's most populous nation. The limit has since been raised to three children.
Concerned about China's first population drop in six decades and its rapid ageing, the government's political advisers proposed in March that single and unmarried women should have access to egg freezing and IVF treatment, among other services to boost the country's fertility rate.
Many women have been put off having more children or any at all due to the expense of child care and having to stop their



Saudi Arabia, UK Sign MoU to Enhance Cooperation in Cultural and Architectural Design

The Saudi Architecture and Design Commission logo
The Saudi Architecture and Design Commission logo
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Saudi Arabia, UK Sign MoU to Enhance Cooperation in Cultural and Architectural Design

The Saudi Architecture and Design Commission logo
The Saudi Architecture and Design Commission logo

The Saudi Architecture and Design Commission has said that it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Royal College of Art in the United Kingdom.

The signing ceremony took place on Tuesday at the King Abdullah Financial District during the "Great Futures" Initiative conference. The Architecture and Design Commission was represented by the CEO, Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, while the Royal College of Art in the UK was represented by the College President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Christoph Lindner.

The memorandum aims to enhance cooperation between the two countries in the cultural and architectural design fields and to implement best practices through various areas of collaboration. These include offering short courses and workshops in architecture and design, implementing specialized educational programs, and supporting entrepreneurship programs in the sector.

Solaiman emphasized that this step reflects the commission's commitment to enhancing international cooperation and knowledge exchange in various fields of architecture and design, contributing to the development and growth of this sector to achieve the highest standards of excellence.

She also noted that this memorandum is part of the commission's strategic plans, highlighting the importance of building international strategic partnerships to foster innovation and development in the architecture and design sectors overseen by the commission. The MoU aligns with the commission's approach to building international strategic partnerships with leading global organizations to attract and apply best practices and international expertise.

This initiative is part of efforts to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries across various sectors. It encourages and supports cultural and educational exchange between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia Overwhelmingly Leads ALECSO Executive Council Until 2026

Saudi representative Hani Al-Moqbil was re-elected as the Chairman of the Executive Council of ALECSO from 2024 to 2026 (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi representative Hani Al-Moqbil was re-elected as the Chairman of the Executive Council of ALECSO from 2024 to 2026 (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Saudi Arabia Overwhelmingly Leads ALECSO Executive Council Until 2026

Saudi representative Hani Al-Moqbil was re-elected as the Chairman of the Executive Council of ALECSO from 2024 to 2026 (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi representative Hani Al-Moqbil was re-elected as the Chairman of the Executive Council of ALECSO from 2024 to 2026 (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Arabia won Saturday the chairmanship of the Executive Council of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) for the third time in a row.

The Kingdom’s representative, Hani Al-Moqbil, was elected president for the 2024-2026 term with an overwhelming majority, securing 18 votes compared to two votes for Morocco.

One member-state abstained from voting. Qatar was elected as the vice president, while Jordan will serve as the rapporteur.

This decision followed a council meeting held after the conclusion of the 27th General Conference of ALECSO, which wrapped up in Jeddah on Friday.

Members praised the positive outcomes and collaborative efforts achieved during Saudi Arabia's previous two presidencies since July 2021.

Arab states on the council highlighted the importance of continuing ALECSO’s forward-looking vision. They praised recent achievements as a major milestone, boosting the organization's role in education, culture, and science across the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia was commended for creating a roadmap that enabled effective collaboration within ALECSO. This teamwork has turned plans into reality, promoting collective efforts, member synergy, and unified execution of initiatives.

Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan shared on “X” that during Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the ALECSO Executive Council in under three years, they initiated over 10 projects and partnerships. He expressed pride in the Kingdom’s re-election for a third consecutive term.

Established in 1970 and based in Tunis, ALECSO is one of the Cairo-based Arab bloc's organizations that seeks to develop Arab culture, education and science at both national and regional levels.


Hoor Al Qasimi Appointed Artistic Director of 25th Biennale of Sydney

Hoor Al Qasimi. Photo by Daniel Boud
Hoor Al Qasimi. Photo by Daniel Boud
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Hoor Al Qasimi Appointed Artistic Director of 25th Biennale of Sydney

Hoor Al Qasimi. Photo by Daniel Boud
Hoor Al Qasimi. Photo by Daniel Boud

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi has been appointed as the Artistic Director of the Biennale of Sydney, scheduled to take place from March 7 to June 8, 2026, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

Al Qasimi will collaborate with local communities, artists and academics, whilst drawing on her own international network, to develop and realize the concept for the 25th edition of the Biennale, WAM said.
As a curator, Al Qasimi’s focuses on the histories of each place she works in, creating multidisciplinary programming with a collaborative approach and emphasis on supporting experimentation and innovation in the arts. For more than 20 years, she has worked extensively with various mediums including film, music, performance, publications, to bring together all forms of art in conversation.

“Sydney has a multicultural community at its core, with people from different cultures from across the world choosing and calling this vibrant city as their home,” said Al Qasimi. “I’m interested in exploring the multifaceted cultures and perspectives within this city, working with local artists and communities as well as bringing new voices to the Biennale. It is an honor and privilege to be nominated and then selected to be Artistic Director of the 25th Biennale of Sydney, which I have been visiting for over a decade now.”

“I have seen the developments over the years, including the amplification of Indigenous voices both local and global, which has made it an essential platform for rewriting art history,” she added.

Al Qasimi is the President and Director Sharjah Art Foundation, an organization she founded in 2009 as a catalyst and advocate for the arts around the world. She has been the Director of Sharjah Biennial since 2002, an internationally recognized platform for contemporary artists, curators and cultural producers, and curated Sharjah Biennial 15 in 2023.

She was appointed as the President of the International Biennial Association (IBA) in 2017 and serves as the President of The Africa Institute, Global Studies University, Sharjah and President and Director of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

Al Qasimi was appointed as the Artistic Director of the sixth Aichi Triennale (2025) last July, becoming the first person to be chosen for the role from outside of Japan. She has also co-curated exhibitions at leading organizations around the world, including the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.


Yemeni Minister Praises Saudi Support in Boosting Efforts to Preserve Heritage

The Saudi flag. Asharq Al-Awsat
The Saudi flag. Asharq Al-Awsat
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Yemeni Minister Praises Saudi Support in Boosting Efforts to Preserve Heritage

The Saudi flag. Asharq Al-Awsat
The Saudi flag. Asharq Al-Awsat

Yemeni Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Muammar Al-Eryani has lauded Saudi Arabia for its support to Yemen’s government to protect local heritage and antiquities, and increase institutional potentials to preserve cultural property.

That support is represented by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY).

The Yemeni minister's remarks came in a statement published by the official Yemeni news agency on Saturday.

He called for holding an international conference to preserve and protect Yemeni antiquities, and to mobilize the necessary financial and technical resources to help protect and maintain them.

He also called for agreements to protect Yemeni antiquities from illicit trafficking and drying up an important resource of terrorist financing globally.


Mali's Historic City of Djenné Mourns Lack of Visitors

FILE- The world's largest mud-brick building, the Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali, awaits its annual replastering, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Moustapha Diallo, File)ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE- The world's largest mud-brick building, the Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali, awaits its annual replastering, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Moustapha Diallo, File)ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Mali's Historic City of Djenné Mourns Lack of Visitors

FILE- The world's largest mud-brick building, the Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali, awaits its annual replastering, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Moustapha Diallo, File)ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE- The world's largest mud-brick building, the Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali, awaits its annual replastering, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Moustapha Diallo, File)ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kola Bah used to earn a living as a tour guide in Mali's historic city of Djenné, known for the sprawling mud-brick mosque that has been on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list since 2016.
The Grand Mosque of Djenné — the world’s largest mud-brick building — used to draw tens of thousands of tourists to central Mali every year. Now it's threatened by conflict between rebels, government forces and other groups.
Bah says his income was enough to support his family, which now numbers nine children, and to pay for a small herd of cattle. But these days, few visitors come to the city, and he has been largely out of work. When he needs cash, he sells some of his cattle.
Speaking to The Associated Press outside his home in Djenné's old town, Bah said locals believed the crisis would come to an end eventually, and that business would pick up as before.
“But the more time passed, the more this dream proved illusory,” he said. “Things are really difficult now.”
Djenné is one of the oldest towns in sub-Saharan Africa and served as a market center and an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade. Almost 2,000 of its traditional houses still survive in the old town.
The Grand Mosque, built in 1907 on the site of an older mosque dating back to the 13th century, is re-plastered every year by local residents in a ritual that brings together the entire city. The towering, earth-colored structure requires a new layer of mud before the rainy season starts, or it would fall into disrepair.
Women are responsible for carrying water from the nearby river to mix with clay and rice hulls to make the mud used to plaster the mosque. Adding the new layer of mud is a job reserved for men. The joyful ritual is a source of pride for a city that has fallen on hard times, uniting people of all ages.
Bamouyi Trao Traoré, one of Djenné’s lead masons, says they work as a team from the very start. This year's replastering took place earlier this month.
“Each one of us goes to a certain spot to supervise,” he said. “This is how we do it until the whole thing is done. We organize ourselves, we supervise the younger ones.”
Mali’s conflict erupted following a coup in 2012 that created a power vacuum, allowing extremist groups to seize control of key northern cities. A French-led military operation pushed them out of the urban centers the following year, but the success was short-lived.
The extremists regrouped and launched relentless attacks on the Malian military, as well as the United Nations, French and regional forces in the country. The militants proclaimed allegiance to al-Qaida and the ISIS group.
Sidi Keita, the director of Mali’s national tourism agency in the capital of Bamako, says the drop in tourism was sharp following the violence.
“It was really a popular destination," he said, describing tens of thousands of visitors a year and adding that today, tourists are “virtually absent from Mali.”.
Despite being one of Africa’s top gold producers, Mali ranks among the least developed nations in the world, with almost half of its 22 million people living below the national poverty line. With the tourism industry all but gone, there are ever fewer means for Malians to make a living.
Anger and frustration over what many Malians call “the crisis” is rising. The country also saw two more coups since 2020, during a wave of political instability in West and Central Africa.
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge in Mali after a second coup in 2021, expelled French forces the following year, and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance. He also ordered the UN to end its 10-year peacekeeping mission in Mali the following year.
Goita has promised to beat back the armed groups, but the UN and other analysts say the government is rapidly losing ground to militants. With Mali's dire economic situation getting worse, Goita's ruling junta ordered all political activities to stop last month, and the following day barred the media from reporting on political activities.
Moussa Moriba Diakité, head of Djenne’s cultural mission which strives to preserve the city’s heritage, said there are other challenges beyond security — including illegal excavations and trash disposal in the city.
The mission is trying to promote the message that security isn’t as bad as it seems, he said, and also get more young people involved in the replastering ritual, to help the new generation recognize its importance.
“It's not easy to get people to understand the benefits of preserving cultural heritage right away,” he said.


India’s Butter Chicken Battle Heats up With New Court Evidence 

A freshly prepared butter chicken dish is placed on a table inside the Moti Mahal Delux restaurant in New Delhi, India, January 23, 2024. (Reuters) 
A freshly prepared butter chicken dish is placed on a table inside the Moti Mahal Delux restaurant in New Delhi, India, January 23, 2024. (Reuters) 
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India’s Butter Chicken Battle Heats up With New Court Evidence 

A freshly prepared butter chicken dish is placed on a table inside the Moti Mahal Delux restaurant in New Delhi, India, January 23, 2024. (Reuters) 
A freshly prepared butter chicken dish is placed on a table inside the Moti Mahal Delux restaurant in New Delhi, India, January 23, 2024. (Reuters) 

With new photographic and video evidence, an Indian court battle over the origins of the world famous butter chicken is set to get spicier.

Two Indian restaurant chains have been sparring since January at the Delhi High Court, both claiming credit for inventing the dish in a lawsuit that has grabbed the attention of social media users, food critics, editorials and TV channels across the globe.

The popular Moti Mahal restaurant chain said it had the sole right to be recognized as the inventor of the curry and demanded its rival, the Daryaganj chain, to stop claiming credit and pay $240,000 in damages. Moti Mahal said founder Kundan Lal Gujral created the cream-loaded dish in the 1930s at an eatery in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, before relocating to Delhi.

That "story of invention of butter chicken does not ring true" and is aimed at misleading the court, Daryaganj said in a new, 642-page counter-filing reviewed by Reuters.

Daryaganj says a late member of its founding family, Kundan Lal Jaggi, created the disputed dish when he helmed the kitchen at the relocated Delhi eatery, where Gujral, his friend-cum-partner from Peshawar only handled marketing.

Both men are dead, Gujral in 1997 and Jaggi in 2018.

Evidence in the non-public filing includes a black-and-white photograph from 1930s showing the two friends in Peshawar; a 1949 partnership agreement; Jaggi's business card after relocating to Delhi and his 2017 video talking about the dish's origin.

By virtue of the friends' partnership, "both parties can claim that their respective ancestors created the dishes," Daryaganj says in the filing, calling the dispute a "business rivalry".

Moti Mahal declined to comment. The judge will next hear the case on May 29.

A key point of contention, which the court will have to rule on, is where, when and by whom the dish was first made - by Gujral in Peshawar, Jaggi in New Delhi, or if both should be credited.

Butter chicken is ranked 43rd in a list of world's "best dishes" by TasteAtlas, and bragging rights about who invented it can matter, brand experts said.

"Being an inventor has a huge advantage globally and in terms of consumer appeal. You are also entitled to charge more," said Dilip Cherian, an image guru and co-founder of Indian PR firm Perfect Relations.

Moti Mahal operates a franchisee model with over 100 outlets globally. Its butter chicken dishes start at $8 in New Delhi, and are priced at $23 in New York.

Late US President Richard Nixon and India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru are among the famous clients to have visited its primary outlet in Delhi.

Daryaganj started in 2019 and its butter chicken costs $7.50. It has 10 outlets, mostly in New Delhi, with plans to expand to other Indian cities and Bangkok.

In its 2,752-page Indian lawsuit, Moti Mahal had also accused Daryaganj of copying "the look and feel" of the interiors of its outlets.

Daryaganj has retorted with photographs of restaurant interiors which the judge will review, claiming it is Moti Mahal that has copied its "design of floor tiles".


Maldives President Visits Hira Cultural District

President of the Maldives and his accompanying delegation paid a visit to the Hira Cultural District in Makkah. SPA
President of the Maldives and his accompanying delegation paid a visit to the Hira Cultural District in Makkah. SPA
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Maldives President Visits Hira Cultural District

President of the Maldives and his accompanying delegation paid a visit to the Hira Cultural District in Makkah. SPA
President of the Maldives and his accompanying delegation paid a visit to the Hira Cultural District in Makkah. SPA

President of the Maldives Dr. Mohamed Muizzu and his accompanying delegation paid a visit to the Hira Cultural District in Makkah on Wednesday and toured the Revelation Exhibition and other key venues.

Following the tour, Muizzu commended Saudi Arabia's efforts to enrich the cultural and religious experience of visitors and Umrah performers.


Mona Lisa’s Mysterious Background Decrypted by Art-Loving Geologist 

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is pictured at the Louvre museum in Paris, France June 7, 2023. (Reuters)
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is pictured at the Louvre museum in Paris, France June 7, 2023. (Reuters)
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Mona Lisa’s Mysterious Background Decrypted by Art-Loving Geologist 

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is pictured at the Louvre museum in Paris, France June 7, 2023. (Reuters)
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is pictured at the Louvre museum in Paris, France June 7, 2023. (Reuters)

Over 500 years after Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, an academic believes she has unraveled the mystery about the backdrop to one of the world's most famous works of art.

Art historians have long debated its landscape, speculating on the locations that could have inspired Leonardo, but the geologist and Italian Renaissance specialist Ann Pizzorusso thinks she has pinpointed it to Lecco in northern Italy.

"When I came to Lecco, I realized he had painted the Mona Lisa here," Pizzorusso said, speaking of the small town on the shores of Lake Como, hitherto best known as the setting of Alessandro Manzoni's masterpiece novel "The Betrothed".

According to the scholar, the arched bridge depicted in the painting would correspond to the 14th-century Ponte Azzone Visconti, even though previous theories had related it to similar structures in other Italian cities, such as Arezzo and Bobbio.

Pizzorusso is not the first person to have claimed to have solved the mystery, but she cites her knowledge of geology to back her claims.

"The bridge to me was not the important aspect of painting," Pizzorusso said. "In the other hypotheses the geology was just incorrect."

The geologist found that rock formations in Lecco were limestone, which matched what is depicted behind the noblewoman.

"When you look at the Mona Lisa, you see this part of the Adda River, and you see another lake behind it, which are perfectly shown underneath these sawtooth mountains," she said from the spot where the scene could have been painted.

Pizzorusso's research on Leonardo "shows perfectly the extent to which the artist and the scientist came together," said Michael Daley, executive director of ArtWatch UK, a nonprofit organization monitoring the conservation of artworks.

"No art historian is qualified to take Ann on in terms of her scientific understanding. The other studies are dead ducks now," he said.


Emiratis Invited to Apply for 2nd National Grant Program for Culture and Creativity

The nationwide grant program, which was launched in 2023, is a key initiative of the Ministry of Culture. WAM
The nationwide grant program, which was launched in 2023, is a key initiative of the Ministry of Culture. WAM
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Emiratis Invited to Apply for 2nd National Grant Program for Culture and Creativity

The nationwide grant program, which was launched in 2023, is a key initiative of the Ministry of Culture. WAM
The nationwide grant program, which was launched in 2023, is a key initiative of the Ministry of Culture. WAM

The Ministry of Culture has announced that it was accepting applications for the second cycle of the National Grant Program for Culture and Creativity (NGPCC) to offer grants to Emiratis with creative projects.

The nationwide grant program, which was launched in 2023, is a key initiative of the Ministry of Culture designed to receive applications from across various fields, including Books and Literature, Music, Film and TV, Performing Arts and Theater, Visual Arts and Design, Video Games and Cultural Heritage. The program's second cycle will be accepting online applications until June 1.

The grant program covers the cultural and creative industries offering creatives a chance to showcase their work to local, regional, and international audiences leading to greater visibility of the UAE’s talent and local cultural production.

At the heart of this program lies the Ministry’s commitment to developing a thriving creative ecosystem in the country by fostering home-grown talent, advancing careers, and enabling further production of creative projects from the sector.

The first cycle of the National Grant Program for Culture and Creativity has awarded 26 emerging and established Emirati creatives in several cultural and creative fields. A few project outcomes include short films, published books, theater productions, a video game, as well as the participation of creatives within international residencies, performances, and art fairs in Venice, Egypt, Latvia, and Poland.

Speaking about NGPCC, Minister of Culture Salem bin Khaled Al Qassimi said that the launch of the second cycle of the program illustrates the unwavering support of his Ministry for the UAE’s cultural and creative industries and promoting the UAE’s national identity and heritage.

“Building on the success of last year’s cycle, we would like to expand the program’s reach and urge more creatives to come forward and submit their applications to benefit from this opportunity. By enabling talent through providing funding, we aim to enhance cultural production in the country and maximize exposure and presence for Emirati creatives locally, regionally and internationally while also enhancing the UAE’s position on the global cultural and creative map,” he added.

The program invites artists, designers, writers, musicians, filmmakers and other creative professionals to submit their proposals to the Ministry within four categories that cater to the specific needs of creatives. They include the Creation and Production Grant, Promotion and Local Participations Grant, Capacity Development Grant and International Travel and Mobility Grant.


Brazilian Dance Craze Created by Young People in Rio’s Favelas Is Declared Cultural Heritage 

Youth perform a street dance style known as passinho for their social media accounts, in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 11, 2024. (AP) 
Youth perform a street dance style known as passinho for their social media accounts, in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 11, 2024. (AP) 
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Brazilian Dance Craze Created by Young People in Rio’s Favelas Is Declared Cultural Heritage 

Youth perform a street dance style known as passinho for their social media accounts, in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 11, 2024. (AP) 
Youth perform a street dance style known as passinho for their social media accounts, in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 11, 2024. (AP) 

It all started with nifty leg movements, strong steps backwards and forwards, paced to Brazilian funk music. Then it adopted moves from break dancing, samba, capoeira, frevo - whatever was around.

The passinho, a dance style created in the 2000s by kids in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, was declared in March to be an "intangible cultural heritage" by legislators in the state of Rio, bringing recognition to a cultural expression born in the sprawling working-class neighborhoods.

The creators of passinho were young kids with plenty of flexibility - and no joint problems. They started trying out new moves at home and then showing them off at funk parties in their communities and, crucially, sharing them on the internet.

In the early days of social media, youngsters uploaded videos of their latest feats to Orkut and YouTube, and the style started spreading to other favelas. A competitive scene was born, and youths copied and learned from the best dancers, leading them to innovate further and strive to stay on top.

"Passinho in my life is the basis of everything I have," dancer and choreographer Walcir de Oliveira, 23, said in an interview. "It's where I manage to earn my livelihood, and I can show people my joy and blow off steam, you understand? It's where I feel happy, good."

Brazilian producer Julio Ludemir helped capture this spirit and discover talents by organizing "passinho battles" in the early 2010s. At these events, youths took turns showing off their steps before a jury that selected the winners.

The "Out of Doors" festival at New York's Lincoln Center staged one such duel in 2014, giving a US audience a taste of the vigorous steps. Passinho breached the borders of favelas and disconnected from funk parties that are often associated with crime. Dancers started appearing on mainstream TV and earned the spotlight during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Ludemir describes the style as an expression of Brazilian "antropofagia," the modernist concept of cannibalizing elements from other cultures in order to produce something new.

"Passinho is a dance that absorbs references from all dances. It's a crossing of the cultural influences absorbed by kids from the periphery as they were connecting with the world through social media in internet cafes," he said.

Dancing also became a means for youths to move seamlessly between communities controlled by rival drug gangs. It offered you men from favelas a new way out, besides falling into a life of crime or the all-too-common pipe dream of becoming a soccer star.

Passinho was declared state heritage by Rio's legislative assembly through a law proposed by Rio state legislator Veronica Lima. It passed unanimously and was sanctioned March 7. In a statement, Lima said it was important to help "decriminalize funk and artistic expressions of youths" from favelas.

Ludemir says the heritage recognition is sure to consolidate the first generation of passinho dancers as an inspiration for favelas youths.

Among them are Pablo Henrique Goncalves, a dancer known as Pablinho Fantástico, who won a passinho battle back in 2014 and later created a boy group called OZCrias, with four dancers born and raised like him in Rocinha, Rio's largest favela. The group earns money performing in festivals, events, theaters and TV shows, and they welcomed the heritage recognition.

Another dance group is Passinho Carioca in the Penha complex of favelas on the other side of the city. One of its directors, Nayara Costa, said in an interview that she came from a family where everyone got into drug trafficking. Passinho saved her from that fate, and now she uses it to help youngsters - plus teach anyone else interested in learning.

"Today I give classes to people who are in their sixties; passinho is for everyone," said Costa, 23. "Passinho, in the same way that it changed my life, is still going to change the lives of others."