Dance of the Dragon Daughter

Me in 5th or 6th grade. Also the last time ever that I had hair past my shoulders.

Ever since the Wall Street Journal posted an excerpt from Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother a whole year ago, I’ve been asked the same question quite a few times: “Chin, you’re Chinese. Was your mother a Tiger Mom?”

The answer is no. Do you see me play any musical instrument? Let along a classical one well? Definitely not!

All kidding aside, I finally read the book a few weeks ago. Ironically, my mom was the one who offered it to me. The book was excellent- hilarious, touching, and very emotionally intense at various turns. I highly recommend it.

I don’t even know how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the piano anymore (that’s basically how far along I got on that skill), and no one ever needed to push me to study at all. Once I got the taste of the rewards and ego-boost that came with doing well academically early on, I just kept going.

I do recall that once I came home with a report card in probably third grade, my mother took a look at the score in the high 80’s and said neutrally “I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.” I’ve gotten a lot of B’s and even lower grades after that (in fact, I got an F one time in English in 5th grade. Oh the irony! ), but for some reason the shame and guilt I felt that first time I ever disappointed a parent really stuck with me.

Right at the entrance of most Taiwanese schools is a rankings board of each class

Although I am very glad that my mom isn’t a Tiger Mom, there is actually one instance where I hope for the opposite: I really wish she didn’t let me quit dancing.

Even when I was little, I was really good at knowing what I want and going after it with concrete steps. My elementary school bus’ route passed by this dance studio with a huge sign of its phone number outside, and at some point it occurred to me that I wanted to learn how to dance. I wrote down the number and I handed it to my mom at dinner that very same day.

I think it must had been only about 10 months in my ballet and jazz classes when I told my parents that I wanted to stop for the most ridiculous reason: I said that dance classes were taking away time and energy from my academics. I WAS IN FOURTH GRADE! Was drawing class too difficult and time-consuming?

To this day, I don’t know why I did that. The excuse I provided was legitimate for almost anything in most Chinese parents’ eyes, so I must have picked that for its success rate. Maybe Amy Chua was right- a hobby only becomes fun when you’re able to be very good at it. Perhaps I realized I was never going to be great at institutionized dancing because I started so late compared to the other girls. I did enjoy it immensely, but possibly I was also afraid of not being good enough?

On the other hand, I’ve learned my lesson from this huge regret in my life. I’ve been taking as many dance classes as possible “for fun” ever since high school. And I also tend to contemplate very carefully if I’ll regret quitting something before I actually make that decision. That’s exactly how I surprised everyone and changed from a kid getting sick once a month to varsity cross country runner, but that’s a story for another day.




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