How far does determination get you in life? For 15 year-old Christiana de Blank, it got her to make history as the first Hong Kong girl to dance her way into the semi finals of Prix de Lausanne 2018.
The Prix, a prestigious international dance competition, where top dance schools and companies search for young talents, had only seen one semi finalist from Hong Kong in its 44 year history. It was in 1987 and the dancer was So Hon-wah – who has been Christiana’s teacher for the past five years.
It was also five years ago that Christiana realised she wanted to be a ballet dancer.
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She had just joined her first competition - the Asian Grand Prix - and won a scholarship to a summer school, when she announced to her parents that it was what she wanted to do for life.
“I want to take ballet seriously, because it’s so beautiful,” she told her parents.
Christiana also did other types of dancing, including hip hop and jazz, at the time. But ballet – which she first began taking classes in at the age of four – was special.
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“I really like the movements and the music; it’s very elegant,” she told Young Post.
“But you are so young, how would you know?” Virginia de Blank, Christiana’s mother, recalls her reaction to her daughter’s decision.
Christiana didn’t really understand “what it meant to do it as a career rather than a hobby...I didn’t feel that much pressure about it, but I knew it would be very competitive”.
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She used to practice for three hours a day after school, but her training has become more intense in the past year, as she left Hong Kong International School in February to be home-schooled.
“It gives me more time for ballet training, and less pressure from school,” says Christiana.
Home-schooling doesn’t mean she gets to slack off on academics, though. Every morning – weekends included – Christiana works on her courses and homework online from nine to noon.
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Planning to do the IGCSE, Christiana has chosen to study English language, English literature, maths, biology and business.
She spends an hour at the gym before her classes in the morning, and after lunch and break, it’s all ballet practise.
Home-schooling makes her schedule more flexible, but it can also get tiring. “But I just go to sleep and wake up and I’m ready to go,” Christiana says determinedly.
Her love for dance seems to help her overcome everything else. At the age of 11, Christiana spent a year away from her family and friends in a boarding school in Birmingham, Britain, to drill her ballet skills. While she says it “really cleaned my movements” and got her ready for more intensive training, she found herself feeling homesick a lot of the time.
“Dropping her off...was painful for me, but she would tell me on the phone ‘I would do it for ballet’,” says her mother.
Normally shy, Christiana becomes someone else once she is on stage. “I’m confident when I dance,” she says. She “hates talking in front of big groups of people” but is totally fine dancing in front of them.
Setting goals and challenges, whether it’s an upcoming competition or performance, keeps her from ever losing momentum. “I’m addicted to adrenaline,” she admits.
Christiana will star in Hong Kong Youth Ballet Academy’s production of Sleeping Beauty this weekend and in a month’s time, she’ll fly to Lausanne, Switzerland to wow the judges at the Prix.
“Dancing in front of judges [means there is] more pressure to do well, but it’s also more exciting,” she says. “For a competition, you [practice] that one solo, and every time you do it, you think about what you need to do better”.
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She’ll spend a week in Lausanne at the end of January, taking classes for the first four days while being observed and marked by the jury. On the fifth day, she will perform a contemporary solo and a classical solo in public before the jury decides whether she’ll be one of the top 20 to enter the final round on the sixth day.
For now, she just focuses on training and rehearsing, for both the production and the competition. “You can keep working towards [perfection] but I would never say that I’m perfect; I can always be better”.