How old were you when you started ballet? Did you like it?
I started learning Chinese dance in kindergarten when I was three years old, and started learning ballet when I was 11.

What was the first ballet you ever saw in a theatre? Who was it by, and what impression did it leave with you?

The first ballet I watched was probably The Nutcracker by Liao Ning Ballet Company. I really enjoyed watching the performance; one thing that I remember the most about it is the beautiful costumes that the ballerinas were wearing, and not so much their dancing itself. (laughs)

When did you decide to pursue a professional career, and why?
When I was about 11 years old, I went to various dance schools to audition to join their Chinese dance curriculum. During one of the auditions, a teacher invited me to join The Shenyang Conservatory of Music and Dance School to be a part of their ballet training. Since I joined that school, I knew that I wanted to pursue a professional career in being a ballerina. So I left home at that age, and travelled from my home town in Ji Ling, to Shenyang to join the dance school.

Did you enjoy your training at your school?

It was very physically and mentally demanding, as the teachers gave very little compliments and they are very critical. So I always felt quite pressurised to improve my ballet techniques.

Typically, we woke up at 5am for morning exercise sessions every day. We would then have breakfast, the usual academic classes and dance classes, till about 830pm on some nights. We will return back to our hostels to rest for the night, and the cycle repeats itself day after day, six days a week.

The first two years at Shenyang was very much slanted towards Chinese dance, and we only started to focus on classical ballet techniques, pas de deux, classical works from the third year onwards. Although the training was really tough, I enjoyed myself at school because I made many friends who shared the same passions, and dancing with them made me really happy.

I graduated from Shenyang at 17, and came to Singapore’s Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) after. The culture in NAFA is really different from Shenyang. Here, the teachers were very encouraging and much less critical and strict. Although language was a barrier, especially for my academic subjects like the human anatomy and history, my three years journey in NAFA was a very enjoyable one.

When and how did you join SDT?

NAFA actually sent in my curriculum vitae to SDT after I graduated, and I was given the opportunity to join SDT’s company classes and to perform smaller supporting roles in SDT productions like the Willis in Giselle and the snowflake and flower in The Nutcracker. I was then offered a place as an apprentice, and I joined SDT in March 2011.

What was your first role in SDT as a professional dancer? Did you like it?

My first role as an apprentice was Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet in 2011.

How do you learn a new ballet/choreography? Is it different for contemporary and classical choreography?

I will usually observe the choreographers’ movements and try to catch and understand the key steps and nuances that he or she is trying to portray. Being an audio learner, the music also helps me to learn the dance better. Generally, I learn classical choreography faster than contemporary works as I’ve grown up learning the syllabus for classical ballet. But I do enjoy both types of dance.

 What is a typical rehearsal day like for you? What do you do during breaks?

I reach the studio at about 930am everyday to warm up and get ready for the day. Company class starts at 10am, and to me company classes are very essential as it prepares and eases you into the day of rehearsals. During my breaks, I would read Chinese novels, have a bite, or talk with my friends.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

I don’t have a particular pre-performance ritual, but I always stretch and make sure that my body is warmed up. I prefer not to talk to anyone, and I try to focus on remaining calm and collected in my thoughts. A lot of dancers usually practice their steps before the show, but I do not really do that as it makes me more anxious. Once I step onto the stage for a performance, and the music comes on, I stop thinking about my steps and just dance. The music brings out the movement that is already in me, so practicing without the music before any show just makes me worry more. (laughs)

What do you eat on a big rehearsal/performance day?

I do not eat a lot before performances as it makes me feel very uncomfortable and bloated, so usually a cup of warm Milo and something light would be perfect. I would have a normal sized dinner after the performance though.

What is your dream role?

I don’t really have a dream role, but I strive to do my best with every role that I am given the opportunity to dance and perform in.

What is your favourite costume so far?

The white swan costume in Swan Lake! I really love Odette’s costume.

Who is your favourite choreographer in the works you’ve danced?

Nils Christe and Annegian Sneep from Nederlands Dans Theater were incredibly fun and nice to work with.

Do you watch ballets from the wings during performance days?

Yes I do! I prefer to watch from the audience during full dress rehearsals, but on performance days, I always try to support my friends who are dancing, especially in the major scenes of the dance or the climax of that performance.

How do you feel after a performance?

Relieved! (laughs) If the performance went really well, I will usually go out for a meal with my friends and enjoy the night together. But if I know that I did not do as well as I had planned or intended it to be, I would head home. So if I go out for a meal after any performance, that is a good sign! (laughs)

What is your most prized possession?

My family. They mean the most to me, and their support for me is really encouraging.

What do you like to do outside of SDT?

I enjoy shopping at Orchard Road, or going to East Coast Park for a walk in the park. I enjoy the sound of the sea, so I really love going to the beach.

Do you have a “guilty pleasure”?

Sleeping? (laughs) I love sleeping, some days I would even sleep past my lunch.

Are most of your friends dancers?

Yes, since I grew up in my school’s hostel in China, and immediately came over to NAFA, and then SDT. All the friends I’ve made in my life are all passionate about dance.

How does your family feel about your career?
My parents are very supportive. Although I am the only child at home, they give me the freedom to pursue my dreams ever since I was young, so I have been away from home for years now. They would come and watch me perform once a year, but other than that, I would call home once every two or three days just to update them and talk to them. They really trust me to make my own life decisions since I was young, and I am very grateful for that.

What do you want to do after dancing?
I would probably continue to stay in Singapore, and be a ballet teacher. I have lived in Singapore for almost seven years now, and I have grown so used to the lifestyle here that going back to China would seem very foreign to me.