Beyond the Dance, by Chan Hon Goh;
Tundra Books: New York, 2002; $15.95
When I first saw the cover of Beyond the Dance, I thought it might be a book that was just about dance technique. But, as the saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. As I started reading, I found that Chan Hon Goh was writing not just about her dance career, but also about her life growing up in Communist China where the government was very unsupportive of artists. I was sad to learn that Chan's parents, who were both dancers, had to split up for a year while Chan's father sought artistic freedom in Canada.
From the moment I started reading, I was rooting for Chan and her family to be successful in their search for freedom. I have read several books before about totalitarian governments, but this book addressed a subject of great interest to me: how artists can be affected by politics. Living in America all my life, I appreciate even more, after reading this book, how fortunate I am to be able to write and dance without opposition from the government.
I feel connected to Chan in several ways. We both love to dance, and take it very seriously. When she was eleven, Chan set high goals for herself as a dancer. I have always had a dream of being a principal dancer in Swan Lake or Giselle—two famous ballets that Chan has gone on to perform as an adult. There are things other than dance that Chan and I have in common. One is that we both moved when we were eleven (as I write this review, I am preparing to move). Chan's move from China to Canada was extremely difficult because she spoke no English. My move from Connecticut to Manhattan will involve my getting used to living in an apartment instead of a house, going to a new school, making new friends, and adjusting to life in the big city. But while my move will be only around sixty miles, Chan's move took her halfway around the world.
Beyond the Dance offers great advice to everyone, not just to dancers. The author recommends that people who want to become better at what they do should create personal challenges, and try to believe in themselves. My favorite part of the book was when Chan, at seventeen, auditioned to get into The Prix, a dance school that only had a few openings. She had worked so hard, and made it to the semifinals, but assumed she had not been accepted, and left. Later that day, she went back to one of the judges to ask what she could do to become a better dancer. I admired that, even though she was disappointed, she wouldn't let anything stop her. I won't give away what happened, but I was happy and encouraged by the way things turned out for her.
Chan's life and career are fascinating, so I strongly suggest that you read Beyond the Dance. I admired the strong descriptions of both the good and difficult times Chan faced in her life, and how she dealt with each. I found myself relating to so many of her experiences, and was able to appreciate the advice given throughout the book about persevering for what you believe in at all costs. Beyond the Dance is a book that truly goes beyond just dancing. It is an autobiography that is great for anyone at any age.