The Perfect Pirouette

An Interview with Houston Principal Dancer Chun Wai Chan

Article by Abby Strickland

Photography by Amitava Sarkar, Claire McAdams and Lawrence Knox

Originally published in River Oaks Lifestyle

Whether it was watching Swan Lake for the first time, purchasing your first tutu, or finally completing the perfect Pirouette, there is a moment in a young ballet dancer's life where they realize dancing on stage is all they want to do. But becoming a professional ballet dancer is no easy feat, and becoming a principal dancer at the Houston Ballet is something only the greatest dancers can achieve. Chun Wai Chan is one of them. 

Chun Wai Chan was born in Guangdong, China, and received his professional dance training under the Guangzhou Art School from 2004 to 2010. He has multiple honorary awards, including a finalist at the 2010 Prix de Lausanne, where he received a full scholarship to study with Houston Ballet's second company (HBII).

In 2011, Chun was awarded the "Houston Ballet Academy Award" and in 2012, joined the Houston Ballet as a corps de ballet. In 2017 he was promoted to a principal dancer and since then has continued to add to his extensive repertoire performing all over the world.  

With an impressive following on Instagram showcasing his incredible talents and what he likes to do on his days off it’s no wonder in the world of dance, Chun Wai Chan is one to watch. We had the pleasure of sitting down to interview him and ask him all about his life with the Houston Ballet. 

When did your love for the ballet begin?

Around age 12. My love for dance began very early, but my love for ballet begin after moving to Guangzhou.

Did you always want to be a ballet dancer?

Yes. Since elementary school, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I wanted to be a principal dancer. My dancing was better than my school work, so I loved dancing so much more than school.

How have you adjusted to life in Houston?

I didn’t have to adjust to life in Houston at all. I came and it immediately felt like home. It’s not a big change from living in the south of China, both are hot and humid. I like life in Houston a lot.

What did it mean to you to receive a scholarship for the Houston Ballet Academy?

It was the start of a new chapter of my life outside of China. It meant everything to me and my future career. 

What is your favorite ballet to watch and why?

Giselle. I like dancing and watching Giselle, because of the beautiful music and sets. I like romantic ballets a lot.

How do you stay fit and healthy?

I’ve been in the habit or routine of eating heathy since I was in China. The food culture in China is very healthy. I don’t crave burgers and pizza. I go to the gym regularly.

What is your diet like?

I make sure to eat enough protein and vegetables each day. I have to remind myself to eat enough for the number of calories I spend each day.

Do you have a favorite cheat meal?

Hot pot – Chinese pot of soup stock, dip raw meat

Do you have a pre-performance ritual?

The week before, I go over notes and mentally go through my performance. The night before, I go to sleep early. I try not to get too excited the morning of a show, so I don’t exert too much energy before I get on the stage. Before a show, I am much more introverted and less smiley than I normally am.

What activities do you enjoy on your days off?

A lot! I spend my days off going to the museum, playing golf, bowling, karaoke, at the swimming pool and going on vacation. There is so much to do!

What advice would you give to young dancers?

Don’t get injured! Don’t push yourself too hard after an injury. Work hard and smart at the same time.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I hope to graduate and get my college degree in 5 years. I’m talking classes mainly online to get my degree in business.

Words that you live by?

Choose something that you love, so you don’t have to work for a day.

Ballet, as beautiful as it is, is not for the faint of heart. Ballet dancers must be devoted and work incredibly hard to earn their spots on the stage. However, if they are fortunate enough to make it, once on that stage, the movements they create with their bodies is nothing short of magic. 

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