Conversation With: A Hong Kong Ballerina


Nicole* is a retired ballerina that worked for several professional Hong Kong dance companies over the past two decades. A trained dancer that has lived and worked here most of her life, we were privileged to talk to her about what it's like to be a professional dancer in Hong Kong and if the life of a dancer is magical like Swan Lake or more like the dark world of Black Swan...

*Her name has been changed to protect her identity. 


1. When did you start training to dance?
I took my first dance class at three years old. I was immediately in love. It was favorite thing to do. I begged my parents to let me take dance classes twice a week, when I was 8. It was a lot of money but my Daddy couldn't say no to me. I was pointe shoes when I was ten years old and doing summer camps when I was 13. 


2. Have you always known you were going to be a dancer?

It was all I thought about when I was younger. I knew I was going to be dancer. I shared a room with my sister and we both danced. We both thought we were going to grow up and be ballerinas. I was very blessed to have parents who had the financial ability to help me make that dream come true. I worked hard and was able to focus my studies fulltime after secondary school.


3. How long did you work professionally as a dancer? At what age did you retire?

I went to full-time study in New York when I was 18. I studied in New York for four years and then came back and worked in Korea for one year. Then I danced in Hong Kong for 10 years for a few different companies, I won't say exactly who, but I will say that I danced for the BIG one for a couple seasons and it was a dream come true. 

A ballerina's life on stage is short, especially if she cannot move up from the corps. I was never able to move beyond a few small solos because my turnout wasn't what they wanted. I worked hard and always smiled; had a good attitude. I think they kept me on longer than some people that were more talented than I; but who had bad attitudes. I retired from ballet professionally in my early thirties but did a few more seasons with some dance companies in musical drama performances and modern dance. They are less strenuous styles and allowed my feet to recover.


4. What do you do now?

I'm a photographer. I take a lot of photos of dancers and performers. I love it. It's very artistic and allows me to be close to the show. I also can spend a lot of time with my son. 


5. Are you sad that you're no longer a professional dancer?

Yes and no. I miss performing but I love spending time with my family. I know if I was still a ballerina, I probably wouldn't be married or have a child and I wouldn't be able to go on holidays. The feeling of performing on the Grand Hall stage is very special. I'll always cherish it.


6. Do you have any advice for young people who want to be professional dancers in Hong Kong?

Work hard and always smile. People with bad attitudes and weak talent are always fired first. 


7. What can parents do to support their children's dreams?

More than financial support, a dancer needs emotional support. It is more than attending performances but being there when they're in pain, helping them cut their shoes and sew their straps in and making sure their sons and daughters stay positive about their self image. Choreographers and masters can sometimes be very harsh on a ballerina for her appearance, how slim she is, how much he can lift and this is on top of their dance abilities. It can take a toll on a person if they're sensitive. 


8. Do many dancers suffer from eating disorders?

Yes and many young ones do not realize that they are suffering. They think that being hungry is normal, and it is not. They say I'll just have an apple today and some cigarettes- but an apple cannot sustain a dancer.


9. Do you think dancers must study abroad?

I love my abroad training and think it is essential to study different types of dance under different teachers. Right now Hong Kong does not have the variety of teachers or methods of study to fully balance a dancer, in my opinion.


10. Do you think the Hong Kong dance scene is growing enough to support the local dance economy? What do you think can be done to support local talent?

I think that more local dancers should be hired by the local companies. I think hiring just 1 or 2 for the intern program shouldn't be enough to get you full government funding. CCDC and Hong Kong Dance Company do a wonderful job of hiring locally. I hope other companies will soon follow suit. 


11. Do you have any regrets?

I don't think I enjoyed it as much as should have. I spent too much time worrying about moving to the next level and being successful, I forgot to enjoy what I had. I now wish I had taken more times to be happy as a professional dancer, it was a beautiful career, while it lasted.


12. Anything else you want to tell our readers?

Support dance in Hong Kong and encourage your children to be creative. 


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