Mao's Last Dancer
SUBJECTS —Literature: Nonfiction; Literary Devices:
allegory/parable; Biography; World/China; U.S.: 1945 - Present; Dance;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Human Rights;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility.
12+; MPAA Rating: PG; Biopic; 2009; 117 Minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com;
Based on the autobiography of Li Cunxin, who became an international star after defecting from Communist China to join the Houston Ballet, Mao's Last Dancer shows life among Chinese peasants in the mid-20th century. Li Cunxin's life is a story of courage, persistence, hard work, personal accomplishment, and artistic success. The TWM Learning Guide to the movie provides an introduction to help students appreciate the story and shows how to use the film as the basis for class discussions and writing assignments.
Mr. Cunxin's autobiography, is an excellent nonfiction text for students in grades 9 - 12. The film can be used to introduce students to the book or to serve as a reward after they have read the book. The TWM Learning Guide provides writing exercises for students who have seen the movie or read the book. See Teaching Students to Read Nonfiction: How Movies Can Help.
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Mao's Last Dancer is an engaging introduction to life in China from 1960 to 1980 (before and during the Cultural Revolution), the process of defecting from a communist dictatorship, the beauty of ballet, and the hard work and athleticism required of ballet dancers.
Learning Guide Excerpt
To give you a sense of how our Learning Guides can be used by teachers to develop lesson plans, and by parents to supplement school curriculum or for homeschooling we have set out below one section from the Guide to Mao's Last Dancer.
An excellent way to access the themes of Cunxin's autobiography is to examine the parables told in the film and the book. Read the parables from the book or distribute copies of the pages on which the parables appear for students to read. Select from the following assignments, or use them all. The interest generated by the movie or the book will motivate students to do their best on the assignments.
"The Best Bow Shooter" — On page 211, Teacher Xiao tells Cunxin a story. This is shown in the movie.
1. Teacher Xiao's fable is important for Cunxin. Write a paragraph describing how Cunxin adopts or rejects the lesson of this fable. Give specific examples.
2. Think of a time in your life when you used or could use the lessons of this fable. Use your narrative writing skills to describe this incident in a short piece of no more than 750 words. Be sure to give your reader a clear picture of the incident that you are describing.
The Learning Guide to the film Mao's Last Dancer contains sections on Benefits of the Movie, Possible Problems, Helpful Background, Discussion Questions, Links to the Internet, and Bridges to Reading. The Discussion Questions are divided into three categories: Subject Matter, Social-Emotional Learning, and Moral-Ethical Emphasis.
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