No barre to ambition: how HK ballet dancer Lam Chun-wing found his way to Paris

No barre to ambition: how HK ballet dancer Lam Chun-wing found his way to Paris

A famous ballet company in Paris just welcomed its first Chinese dancer. Nineteen-year-old Lam Chun-wing shares how his dream came true

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Lam Chun-wing is brave when it comes to following his passion.
Photo: Joyce Cheng

Lam Chun-wing was a typical Hong Kong boy, but his life took an unusual turn after he finished Form Three at STFA Lee Shau Kee College and got on a plane to Paris on his own.

Fast forward to 2015, and he's now the first Chinese dancer at the world-renowned Paris Opera Ballet in France.

He was dragged to his first ballet class aged seven. At age 11, he decided he wanted to become a professional dancer. At 14, he got a place at the Paris Opera Ballet School and in August this year - a month before his 19th birthday - he had secured a long-term contract at the Paris Opera Ballet, and is currently dancing in his favourite ballet production, Rudolf Nureyev's La Bayadère.

But he wasn't always so enthusiastic.

When his mother took him to Jean M. Wong School of Ballet 12 years ago, Lam refused to go into the dancing room as there were no boys.

"I wondered why my mother took me to such a girly extra-curricular activity," he told Young Post.

It took his mother and the school secretary 30 minutes to persuade him to have a go.

He enjoyed moving his body to the piano music, but that was it. "I won't say that it was real ballet dancing … my passion came gradually when I moved on to learning new ballet steps and watching different ballet classics," he recalls.

Within just a few years, he had decided to do ballet for the rest of his life, even though it "wasn't very clear what a dancer's life was like". As a professional now, he knows it's a 24/7 commitment with a strict lifestyle to follow.

Lam explains that good nutrition and relaxation are essential, as well as taking good care of his body with massages, cross-training, and strengthening exercises.

Other people might be able to take long periods of time away from their studies or work, but not dancers. "When we rest for more than three days - I mean completely, with no dancing, no Pilates, no strength-training, no cardio - it's extremely hard to start dancing again," says Lam. "This kind of life may seem exhausting, but when you are passionate about it, it's actually very enjoyable!"

Lam's training in Hong Kong wasn't enough to satisfy his hunger to learn. Male and female ballet techniques are very different so, as the only boy in his class, Lam found himself craving the opportunity to push himself further.

At 13, he was already desperate to go overseas for professional training.

Lam just faced every difficulty with courage.
Photo: Joyce Cheng

His chance came when he was 14. Paris Opera Ballet School opened its doors to him after a private audition, and Lam had no second thoughts about moving to France.

It wasn't easy to give up full time studies to pursue his passion. But academic pressures would have eaten into his training. "I went for it, I just wanted to dance more," Lam says.

He didn't give up on schoolwork though, and used to study in the morning before dancing in the afternoon. Even now, as a professional dancer, he's studying to take exams next year.

The first days in Paris were tough, but he kept a brave face. "I will always remember my first day at the school," says Lam. "I couldn't understand bonjour [hello] and au revoir [goodbye] so I didn't know what was going on. I just kept reminding myself why I was in Paris, and just faced every difficulty with courage.

"Moving to Paris not only allowed me to receive full-time training, but also made me a much stronger person."

Things got better once he learned the language and started to make friends.

The school ranks students at the end of every year and those who are not good enough leave. Such competition helped motivate Lam.

"I was at one of the best ballet schools in the world," he says, adding "all I wanted to do was to continue learning."

After more than 10 years as a dancer, Lam still loves his job. "I love how emotions and feelings that cannot be described with words can be expressed through ballet," Lam says.

Since he made history by becoming the Paris Opera Ballet's first Chinese dancer, Lam has been under the spotlight.

He is excited that his experiences may inspire others, and bring people joy. "If my story is inspiring," he says.

"Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing to motivate other people and bring positive changes to this world by sharing it?"

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
No barre to ambition

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