In our house, Little J has just begun ballet class… and to say she’s loving it is an understatement. In fact, each day when we go over our ‘plan of the day’ she asks hopefully if she please, please, please has dance class today. Who knows where this will lead – I’m mean, she’s only 2 ½! – but I’m all for nurturing her adorable borderline obsession since, after all, you never know what talents and passions your children with have. So it’s with this in mind that today we want to introduce you to an inspiring homegrown talent – a younger ballet dancer on his way to global stardom.
At only 15 years old, Lam Chun Wing has made a name for himself in the world of ballet. A student of the Jean M. Wong School of Ballet since he was seven, he has already danced with the Hong Kong Ballet and has studied at the Royal Ballet School in London. And now he is studying at the prestigious L’Ecole de Danse de Paris, part the Opera de Paris. We recently got the chance to ask the young dancer how he got his start, what motivates him to dance, and his tips for young dancers. A true inspiration, we hope you share his story with the little dancers in your lives.
When did you first become interested in dance? Tell us a bit about how you got started and where you studied.
I actually was first interested in music, so I started studying piano at the age of 5. I was quite good, but when I was about 7 my mum wanted add something physical to my activities – she suggested ballet since it was physical but also musical. I was so surprised and very much against it – but even, so took me to a trial ballet lesson at the Jean M. Wong School of Ballet. The trial class didn’t exactly go well – I was crying so hard outside the Tsuen Wan studio and only went in (actually… I was pushed in by the school secretary!!) at the very last moment, almost as the class was ending. But very unexpectedly to us all, I loved it! And that’s how I stepped into this world of ballet.
What was it like to attend London’s Royal Ballet School? Was it your first time dancing abroad? What was the experience like?
Before attending the Royal Ballet School’s summer school, I went to Guangzhou for 4 weeks and trained at the Guangzhou Ballet School. It was extremely tough and I had to dance long periods of time each day. Obviously, I improved a lot after the training in Guangzhou. I felt that my technique was much stronger, but I was still a bit weak in terms of quality and precision. Moreover, the training there was not terribly diverse, which means they focused only on the technical aspects of ballet.
It was a really an incredible experience joining the Royal Ballet’s summer school –walking in to this famous ballet school was a really special moment for me. The training there was unbelievably diverse – it included body-conditioning lessons like Pilates and yoga, character dance, contemporary dance, etc. And the facilities were really wonderful – the studios were so spacious! But as it was my first time being very far from my family I got very homesick. While it was really tough (and I hated the food!), it did teach me a lot about how to take care of myself when I’m abroad. I also had the opportunity to see a ballet performed by one of the best ballet companies in the world – the Mariinsky theatre at the Royal Opera House. And I made a lot of friends – some were even students of the Paris Opera Ballet School where I now study.
Tell us about the L’Ecole de Danse de Paris where you now attend. How did that opportunity come about and what has the experience been like? Are you learning French?
Oh, it has been absolutely amazing learning ballet in Paris! When I decided to do full-time ballet training abroad last year, I had already been searching different ballet schools online. I thought the Royal Ballet School was a very good choice because it’s a very famous school – plus I didn’t want to learn a new language. But Miss Wong suggested I consider to the Paris Opera Ballet School – she thought that was the best ballet school in the world. I agreed that it was probably the best, but I knew it was very hard to get in to – especially since I’m not French! Luckily, Miss Wong kept insisting and we went to Paris for the audition in June 2011. I really couldn’t believe it when I was accepted….!
But of course, the reality is that it’s a very tough school. I have been staying in the school dormitory from Monday to Friday, and with a host family during the weekends. We get up at 6:45am to have breakfast because school starts at 8:00am. We have ‘normal’ studies in the morning – I take Maths, French, Science, History, etc. And since my French wasn’t very good to begin with, I take private French lessons as well. When we finish school at noon we go to the canteen and have lunch – expert nutritionists design the menus (and the food is great!).
We then have about 3-4 hours of dancing everyday in the afternoons. Dance subjects include classical ballet, contemporary, character dance, theatre, sports, nutrition, anatomy, music, ballet history, etc.
I first stepped on the stage of the Palais Garnier (the famous theatre house of the Paris Opera) when our school joined the Paris Opera Ballet for the “defile” (a grand parade of all dancers and students of the Paris Opera). It was magical. I felt so good on that stage and I felt very proud of being one of their students! The theatre house is gigantic -it’s simply beautiful and so classically built. The combined effect was overwhelming and I must say I was in total shock when I first went into the Opera!
I had the chance to perform on that stage again in December, for the demonstrations (normal dance classes performed on stage) and in April, for the school performance – and I was given a solo role! I was so grateful to have been chosen, but of course I had so much pressure being the only solo act. On top of it all, this was my first performance in Paris! Luckily, I made it through…
I must say that my host family has been very kind to me. They took me out for trips around France and are very caring and warm… I’ve gone through my homesick period easily!
Take us through your ‘typical’ day – how many hours do you practice? Do you eat, sleep and breathe ballet all year round?
We’re up early and in school from 8am-12pm. And then it’s dance classes from 1:30-6:30pm. It’s a busy day but we do get quite a lot of free time before ballet lessons start and after dance classes too. During free time, students usually go out to the huge garden at the school and play around. I usually read a book or call my parents.
What’s next? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
If I can successfully graduate after two years, I would like to audition for the Paris Opera Ballet. Of course it’s my favorite company because it’s one of the very few classical companies and because of its well-known repertoire. If I’m lucky enough to join the company, I would then work there as a dancer. If not, I would try other ballet companies around the world. Besides dancing, I’m also interested in physiotherapy and anatomy. But I really want to be a dancer first!
Tell us about your homecoming to Hong Kong and your recent performance – are you excited back and dancing for your hometown?
It was so great to see my family again after a year of being in Paris! And I was also so happy to see my friends and teachers in the JMW ballet school. It felt really good working and dancing with them again. However, this also brought on lots of pressure because of everyone’s expectations and since I want to do my best for the Hong Kong audience. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, I came down with the flu just two days before the show and so wasn’t at my best physical condition, but I think I still did well – I always feel so good after a performance.
What is your advice for a young dancer interested in going professional?
As we all know, being a professional dancer is very hard – not only physically and technically, but also psychologically. One has to become very strong to get through all the pressure and competition. Moreover, dancers in general are not very well paid. But I always keep in mind that this is what I’m really interested in and what I really want to do in the future. I’m doing it because this is what I love, not because of anything else. I believe that doing what I love is one of the best decisions I have ever made. But I would recommend others to think things over very carefully and seriously before making a final decision. If you’ve made the decision already, expect difficulties to come. And when they do, smile and continue. And try not to forget your dreams.
What was the best advice you’ve ever received regarding your interest in dance?
My teacher once told me “if you want to be a professional dancer in the future, accept the pain!” At first I misunderstood, thinking that I would have to accept any physical pain if I want to be a dancer and that I’d have to just “accept it” when I got injured. Now, though I know what she really meant. Yes, being a dancer can be physically painful, but there is a lot of hard work necessary to overcome all the pressure – plus you have to give up a lot of things. To be a successful dancer, you might go through a period where others don’t understand you. You might even have to disappoint those who have helped us along the way. All these things have been part of getting me to where I am today, but well, this is just my own experience – and may not happen to everyone who’s trying to be a dancer!
But I plan to keep accepting the “pains” that come with the profession, and will continue to reach for my dream. I will not let anything to pull me back easily!