Mao’s Last Dancer

Text: Mao’s Last Dancer I chose the autographical novel ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, composed by Li Cunxin, as it has several themes that convey the idea of a journey. It is physical in the way Li Cunxin had to work hard to be a professional ballet dancer and it is also mental as it is a road to self-discovery. The autobiography is also extremely inspirational and inscribed in first person, therefore this allows the reader to see the personal journey of Li.
I believe this text also relates to Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’ in the way Li has to act like a slave to the Communist Mao. This is similar to the enslavement of the characters Caliban and Ariel. The main physical journey represented in the text is how dancing shaped and became Li’s life. When he was chosen to be in Madame Mao’s ballet academy, he had no desire to be there. ‘Those first few weeks were an agony of loneliness…I became introverted and spoke very little…everyday I couldn’t wait for the year to end’.
Later on though, you notice through emotive language the determination he has to be the best. ‘I challenged myself to go further, to experiment with new feelings. ’ He had to leave his family, who live in an awfully poor village, so he can be a dancer. Further along in life he became one of the most elite ballet dancers China has produced. Madame Mao then took him to America to enhance his skills; he won many medals and now lives in Melbourne. Coming from a poor family, to now being rich and famous shows incredible juxtaposition and the concept of a journey.

Another idea is the emotional journey of this text. In the story you notice many qualities that Li possesses like bravery and courage. At the beginning of the story you sense the tone of unhappiness, knowing he cannot contact them for years. ‘I am frightened. I want to go home to my niang. I start to sob. ’ For the first year of ballet school, his confidence was low and he constantly felt like people were judging him but from his fourth year onwards he had willpower and strength to move forward.
Finally, in his sixth year, Teacher Xiao had a chat with him and he used a simile, saying a pirouette is like a mango. This helps you create a clear image in your mind. ‘The fun is in the process. Admire the unique shape, the colour, the smell. You need to enjoy every bit of the process, taste the many layers of the fruit and enjoy it for it’s full value. I want you to treat pirouettes the same way. ’ This quote also represents a journey perfectly, saying it’s not about the outcome; it’s what you achieved along the way.

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