Writer: Kelly Bai
Photographer: Alfonso Arnold
Photographer Assistant: Alejandro Chavarria
Makeup: Jennifer Dicaire
Stylist: Sarah D’Arcey
Fashion: Nordstrom Vancouver
Location: Jordans Interior
Translation: Risa Liu
Over the telephone comes a gentle and pleasant female voice, soft and smooth, intensely feminine. The owner of this voice is Chan Hon Goh, director of Canada’s Goh Ballet Academy, and the first ever ethnically Chinese principal dancer in The National Ballet of Canada.
Chan Hon Goh’s path in ballet might seem predictable. She was born in a ballet family — her father, Choo Chiat Goh, was a dancer with the Central Ballet of China and gained immense popularity there in the‘60s, while her mother, Lin Yee Goh, was also a principal dancer in the Central Ballet of China. It would seem logical for family of ballet dancers to raise Chan Hon Goh as a ballet dancer as well, but it did not actually occur in this way.
Choo Chiat Goh immigrated to Canada in 1976 and founded the Goh Ballet Academy, teaching ballet to children. By the time Chan Hon Goh arrived in Canada, she was already eight years old and up to that point had never learned ballet. Instead, she had started learning the piano at the age of three.
“They wanted me to become a concert pianist,” says Chan Hon Goh.
However, she loved ballet. After arriving in Canada, she began taking ballet lessons from her father at the age of 11. While her father was very attentive to the other children, he didn’t pay much attention to her — as a ballet dance artist, Choo Chiat Goh knew that ballet is a tough path to take and he wanted his daughter to develop other hobbies and pick an easier path.
But young Chan Hon Goh was solely dedicated to ballet and felt wronged, saying to her father one day, “I am also your student. I also work very hard and use all my efforts and energies to learn. Why is it that you purposely ignore me in the classroom?”
From that time onwards, Choo Chiat Goh and his wife understood Chan Hon Goh’s passion and dedication towards ballet, and began to seriously appraise her physical abilities and potentials. Undeniably, she was talented, and paired with a great teacher like her father, she won an award at Switzerland’s Prix de Lausanne International Competition of Dance at the age of 16, despite having only started learning ballet at the age of 11.
A year later, she won another award at the UK’s Royal Academy of Dance Examinations. After graduating from high school in 1988, Chan Hon Goh was accepted into The National Ballet of Canada and quickly received the opportunity to dance solos, becoming second soloist in 1990 and first soloist by 1992. In 1994, she became principal dancer — the first ethnically Chinese dancer in the company.
Over her 21-year dance career with the National Ballet of Canada, Chan Hon Goh shaped numerous great characters with her delicate feelings and deep sentiments. She also served as the main feature for classic programs choreographed by modern choreographers such as John Neumeier, Christopher Wheeldon and others. Finally, on May 31, 2009 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Chan Hon Goh performed a number from Giselle with the National Ballet of Canada, and waved farewell to the stage.
Leaving the stage behind did not mean that she left ballet. She moved back to Vancouver and became the director of Goh Ballet Academy, dedicating herself to developing performances for the Academy, including a massive production of The Nutcracker, which has garnered much praise since its premiere in 2009. Now, she’s busied herself with rehearsing the famous Cinderella, in celebration of Goh Ballet’s 40th anniversary, with performances at Vancouver’s The Centre on June 1 and 2.
“I’m busy in both my personal and work lives — and I love being busy. Dance is my passion and I don’t treat it as work, but as an interest,” she says.
To have one’s passion as a life companion is truly something enviable.