Chinese Dancing, Bendigo Style by Joo-Inn Chew
In Chinese Dancing, Bendigo Style by Joo-Inn Chew we have the theme of belonging, identity, shame, confidence, acceptance, happiness and pride. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed young girl the reader realizes after reading the story that Chew may be exploring the theme of belonging. The narrator wants to belong but feels as though she doesn’t. She is unsure if she is Chinese or Australian and it doesn’t dawn on her that she might be both. She knows she is different to her Chinese cousins and her Australian classmates but cannot put a finger on who she is. Something which causes discomfort for the narrator who really just wishes to belong and be in her eyes normal. She thinks she is Chinese sometimes and acts as her father acts. However as she grows up she realizes her father’s traits are not Chinese but are unique to him. The fact that the narrator tries to copy her father is important as it shows how desperate the narrator is to try and fit in or belong.
The theme of shame is evident in the story. Firstly the narrator is ashamed with how she played her piano recital and how others reacted. She feels as though the audience, by clapping, are being sympathetic to her and her sister. Something that the narrator does not like as it only makes her feel even more different to others. However learning to dance and being in the Easter parade is a great confidence booster for the narrator. She loves being with other Chinese people and showing off her talents. It is as though the narrator has found a place in where she belongs. For the first time in her life the narrator feels connected with others.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The piano recital can be seen to symbolize the difficulties that the narrator encounters because she is half Chinese. As mentioned she thinks that people pity her not only because she is young but because she is half Chinese. The parade could represent confidence to the narrator. As mentioned for the first time in the story and in the narrator’s life she is happy. The fact that the narrator describes her parents as middle-class hippies could also have some symbolic significance. It is possible that Chew is allowing for the narrator’s parents, and in turn the narrator, to be free of the constraints of society. Unfortunately for the narrator this is not how she feels. She feels lost to an undiscovered heritage. It is as though the narrator is chasing something that is right in front of her but she cannot see it.
The end of the story is interesting as Chew appears to be exploring the theme of acceptance and happiness. The narrator feels happy when she participates in the parade and for the first time accepts who she is. Half Chinese and half Australian. Both traditions are accepted by the narrator. Making it easy for the narrator to feel as though she belongs and that she is special. The lack of identity that the narrator had previously experienced is gone and what makes way delights the narrator. She can be both Chinese and Australian. Whereas the narrator had been looking to being Chinese she realizes she is made up of two different cultures. Cultures she can be proud of.