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Homegrown ballet dancer Peggy Lai Pui-ki began taking ballet lessons at three and joined the Gifted Young Dancer Programme (GYDP) as a secondary school student. After graduating from Form 5, she enrolled in the Academy's ballet Diploma programme and then the Bachelor's Degree programme. In the first year of her Bachelor's studies, she was recruited by the Hong Kong Ballet (HKB) and thus began life as a full-time ballet dancer.


Having been away from full-time studies for seven years, Peggy returned to her alma mater last year to embark on a Master's in Dance. She is hoping to teach at the Academy in the future. "I want to do my best to nurture more local ballet talent." Away from the glamour of the stage, the dancer displays her genuine self as she relates the story of a dream fulfilled.


The grace of ballet hides extremely difficult techniques and hours of painful practice. Yet Peggy has pleasant memories of learning the art form as a child. "Lessons were twice a week. They weren't overly demanding. I was lucky. I did well in contests and got help from many people. My teachers were also fond of me and many opportunities were opened up for me."


Peggy regards Academy Senior Lecturer (Ballet) Stella Lau, who is also the Leader of GYDP and Outreach, as her life mentor. Stella has been a witness to Peggy's development since her GYDP days, inspiring her to enrol in the Academy's Diploma programme. When Peggy moved on to the Bachelor's programme, she was loaned to HKB in her first year of study to perform in The Nutcracker. Later, HKB recruited new talent and again she was chosen. "The Hong Kong Ballet recruits one Hong Konger per year. I thought that if I waited two years to get my Bachelor's Degree before taking part in the selection process again, I may not make it, so I said yes very quickly."


Letting the Body Speak

As an only child much doted upon by teachers and older people, Peggy's path was smooth and breezy until she turned professional. Then the pressure came. "When I was an intern at HKB, I was reprimanded almost daily. Frankly I wasn't used to it. I would cry when I got home from work." As Confucius said, "To know shame is akin to courage", and Peggy decided to better prepare herself to speed up her learning. When notified of a forthcoming performance, she would begin by watching the relevant videos at home. After eight months of adaptation and hard work, she finally got the hang of it.


Now in her seventh year at HKB, Peggy has played her favourite roles, and enjoyed the limelight and great applause. She will also be promoted to Coryphée in the coming season. In recent years she began to contemplate the path ahead. "I was a little lost. I'd go to work every day − I'd dance; then I'd rest. I seemed to have missed out on other facets of life. I felt all that was left of me was a shell with a void inside, and if I let this state continue, I would never make progress."


Kevin Mckenzie, Artistic Director of the American Ballet Theatre, once remarked, "No matter how talented you are when you're young, there's a certain amount of life experience you can't accelerate." Peggy has always admired Stella for her breadth of knowledge and knack for conversation on just about any topic with just about anyone − abilities which put her in the shade. "Stella is an important person in my life and a role model. Several years ago, she encouraged me to pursue further studies and suggested I applied for a scholarship. Lilly, a good friend of mine, is a dance graduate of the Academy who went overseas for dance therapy studies on a scholarship from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Music and Dance Fund. I decided to try my luck and succeeded. So here I am, back in the Academy, studying the Master of Fine Arts in Dance."


Fuelling the Dream

With her nine-to-six job and three nights of classes at the Academy, Peggy quips that she has no idea how she survived the first semester. "It's tough, but the Master's programme has helped me a lot. Homework is usually an analytical essay of 3,000 to 4,000 words that I can only do during holidays and lunch breaks. Fortunately I'm used to it now." While the emphasis of the Diploma programme is dance technique, the Master's stresses theory, analysis and critical thinking. Peggy confesses that this is the type of training she needs the most. "The course on Decoding Performance is taught by Daniel Yeung, who likes to ask us questions that make us think. My classmates are all quite expressive with their opinions, but I have a hard time translating mine into words. However with Daniel's guidance, I am beginning to think critically."


After her Master's, Peggy intends to continue with her studies, specialising in art administration, and hopes to join the Academy as a teacher in the future. "HKB has over 50 members, but of these, only six or seven are Hong Kongers. I want to help Hong Kong dancers with potential. Ballet has been central to my life. Being able to nurture dancers born and raised in Hong Kong would be something tremendously meaningful."


(The article was published in the Apr 2020 issue of Academy News. Click here to read the original story.)

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