DMR School of Ballet’s new dance teacher Christina Lai opens up to Jennifer Atepolikhine about her dazzling career with the Hong Kong Ballet and her latest teaching role.
We all can remember that special teacher who inspired us to keep going when faced with difficulties and taught us not to give up, and for DMR School of Ballet’s new dance teacher Christina Lai, that was Jean Wong.
“When I was in primary school, we had dance teachers who would come to watch and spot talent; they would look for flexibility, ability to follow instructions and posture. I was lucky enough to win the Tsinforn C. Wong Memorial Scholarship to train at the Jean M. Wong School of Ballet,” Christina says. “I went three times a week, travelling from my home on Kowloon side to the Happy Valley studio. The journey time was often over twice the lesson time but I loved ballet so much it was worth it.”
That Christina’s early dedication paid off will not be news to ballet fans, since she danced professionally with the Hong Kong Ballet from 1988 to 2000. Moving up through the ranks from the corps de ballet to senior soloist artist, she recalls this time in her life as “simply fabulous”. Her many leading roles included Lise in La fille mal gardée, the Snow Queen in The Nutcracker and the Girl in Blue in Les Patineurs.
A grand passion
Christina teamed up with DMR in August, though she has been teaching ballet across Hong Kong since her son Tim, 15, was born. “I was drawn to work at DMR because the school offers a wide range of teaching styles, plus the demanding and exacting curriculum of the RAD [Royal Academy of Dance] courses,” she says. “With high-level students, particularly, this helps them focus on a goal and keeps them motivated to achieve higher and higher standards.”
Interestingly, Christina finds her DB students quite different from those she teaches elsewhere in Hong Kong. The DB kids are always asking questions and the reasons behind her instructions, while her other students accept what she says more easily. Christina also admits that at times discipline is challenging, especially with the younger DB dancers.
“Ballet technique with the correct posture is the most important thing to learn, followed by artistry – they need to learn how to dance gracefully – and self-discipline,” Christina explains.
It’s clear that Christina teaches ballet in order to share her life’s passion, and her own ‘Cinderella’ story is truly inspirational. After training with Jean Wong, she was awarded the Heinz Bosl Scholarship in 1985 to study with Madame Marika Besabrasova at the Ecole de Danse Classique Princesse Grace in Monte Carlo. In 1988, Christina won the South China Morning Post Student Dancer of the Year Award and joined the Hong Kong Ballet.
Christina’s glittering career has allowed her to travel the world, perform before thousands and find true love (she met her husband Danny Wong when he was working backstage for the Hong Kong Ballet) but she is cautious about encouraging young ballerinas to follow in her footsteps. “As a teenager, I missed out on a lot of the social life my friends enjoyed and I also had to be very careful about what I ate,” she says. “There’s no denying it’s a tough profession but wholly worth it if you have the passion!”