The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Not a Tiger Teacher’s Student

At dance class every Sunday, I’ve learned to suck it up and suck it in. Because when I don’t (and even when I do), I’m criticized for not watching my weight. Ten too many chocolate-smothered thick toasts and 20-piece Chicken McNugget deals, according to my dance teacher.

My holiday break was spent rehearsing in the dance studio, morning to night. With a raised eyebrow, my dance teacher witnessed my every meal. She once heard me slurping the last of my pearl milk tea and found me coaxing the last tapioca ball into my purple straw. Another time, she frowned as I bit into a Portobello mushroom and sausage sandwich—which, really, was supposed to be a cranberry turkey one. (Le Boulanger could have saved me a lecture on lean meats if it hadn’t mixed up my order.)

And when, sometimes, my teacher frowns at my thighs, I’m reminded of Amy Chua’s article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” published in the Wall Street Journal.

“Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, ‘Hey fatty—lose some weight,’” Chua says. “By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of ‘health’ and never ever mentioning the f-word.”

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My teacher is not the “Tiger Mother” Chua describes, nor is she a “Tiger Teacher.” At least not in my eyes. When I forget the repertoire of a warm up, she doesn’t make me practice it 100 times. When I’m tired and don’t leap as high as I can or point as accurately as I should, she doesn’t slap my feet or kick my heels. Instead, she tells me about her own dance teachers who were much harsher than her, and would force her to practice each warm up with much more precision than we ever did.

Zai jia you, bu ke yi lan duo. Keep going, don’t be lazy,” she says when I’m struggling on my sixty-fifth sit up. Then she’ll tell me how her teachers would force her to do 500 sit ups every day, and then 500 backwards sit ups.

Ni pang le, she says to me, noticing a little more weight this week than last. Then she’ll share a story about how when she was training at the Shanghai Dance Academy, a little too much weight meant running for hours wearing only a trash bag to collect the sweat. She’ll tell me about the time she walked into an audition with a broken arm and still advanced to the next difficulty level. Or how she wore out a pair of pointe shoes a week and danced until her ballet shoes cracked with dried blood. She always ends her stories with one of her two favorite phrases— “One minute onstage is ten years of training offstage,” and “If you plant a melon, you’ll reap a melon. If you plant a bean, expect a bean.”

Unlike the Tiger Mother, whose solution “is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child,” my teacher leaves lazy students unpunished. Instead, she tells them about the “tiger mother” teachers that she had, and compares their work ethic with hers.

So when my teacher catches me eating two sticks of string cheese, she frowns. But she doesn’t make me run until I work off those fatty calories. (She always said running gives you carrot legs—thick thighs and thin ankles. As does swimming. And pole vaulting. And any sport other than dancing). But she will tell me that she only eats an apple as a snack.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep on sucking it up and sucking it in. I’ll do that for as long as I continue to dance. And I’ll continue to listen to each story my teacher shares about how, even if I’m not one, I need to work just as hard as a Tiger Mother’s prodigy.

But in reality, I’m not a tiger teacher’s student, and I don’t have a tiger teacher. Chua never let her daughters do things like “have a sleepover” or “get any grade less than an A.” I may not be a model student in dance, but I’ve learned a lot by being less than perfect.

Frankly, these less-than-perfect moments in my high school career have meant a lot to me. Chua said that the reason she pressures her children so much is that “to get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.'”

My preferences have led to me dance, journalism, and community service. Those aren’t outlined on Chua’s list of acceptable activities, but I’ve learned more from my dance teacher than any tiger mother could have ever taught me.

Hello, freshman fifteen.

Senior Carolyn Huang performs on stage with her dance company.

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  • Shefali Luthra | Feb 3, 2011 at 5:18 am

    This was a well-written commentary that added a thoughtful, personable voice to the discussion Chua’s article sparked. Regardless of the contents of Chua’s full book, people are actually discussing the subject of the excerpt published. In that context and also as a stand-alone piece, this column conveys an excellent, well-expressed point. Nicely done, Lina.
    –Shefali Luthra

  • Anonymous | Feb 2, 2011 at 7:04 am

    You realize, of course, that her article on WSJ was just an excerpt from the book, where she actually changes her mind on this style of parenting – right? I would have expected that you as a -journalist- would have done more research on this issue, but I guess you deem it superior to reiterate the same comments that everyone who read that article had instead of informing them of the true nature of what they were passing judgment of. A true disgrace.