DIANA YAU Yuet-hing, a ballroom dancer who represented Hong Kong at international competitions from 1980 to 1999, twirls and lifts an arm gracefully into the air. The lights at her Champion Ballroom Dancing Academy in Causeway Bay, sparkle off her dress as she slows to a stop.
'I started out teaching Japanese at the French International School when I was 20. A friend asked me to take ballroom dancing lessons with her just for fun and I agreed,' she recalls.
The hobby soon became a passion, and within a year, Yau was a qualified teacher. Another year later, she won the 1980 Hong Kong
Latin American Dance Championship. She continued to win the championship and represented Hong Kong at international contests over the next 20 years.
'Training wasn't easy. Even now that I've retired from competing, I spend three intensive weeks in England every year, learning from instructors,' Yau says.
'I'm happy when I dance. It's tiring, of course, but that doesn't matter when I have a target or high standard I want to achieve. Before, training was necessary to maintain my champion position. Now, I need to keep up to teach my students.'
These days, the petite 47-year-old devotes her time to teaching youngsters, tai
tais, and increasingly, professionals such as architects and accountants at her academy.
'Ballroom dancing is on the rise. There are so many benefits. It's fun, relaxing, healthy, and for people who aren't accustomed to exercising, it's a good way to keep fit. Many people who sit at desks or entertain a lot get big bellies - this is where dancing can help the most,' she says.
Yau says posture is the key. 'Some City University professors I taught all slouched at first. They were taller than me, but when I stood up straight, I joked that we were the same height. After 10 lessons, their posture was wonderful!'
Yau is pleased with the government's support of ballroom dancing. From next month, the activity will be offered at 40 primary schools, following a syllabus Yau has designed.
'We're also negotiating to include ballroom dancing in a dance sport section in the Olympics, but the details have not yet been finalised,' she says enthusiatically.
When asked about the most memorable events of her career, Yau offers two.
'In 1992, the Open Ballroom Championship of the Asia Pacific Competitions was held in Perth, Australia. My partner and I came third. As we lined up to receive the award, I remember being struck by the fact that we were the only Asian pair. And as I looked around, I saw we were also the shortest,' she giggles. The other memorable event was the Mid-Summer's Night Dance to mark her retirement on September 19, 1999. The dance, sponsored by CitiGold, also celebrated her academy's first anniversary.
'To retire is very sad for a competitor. But it was the biggest event ever held for ballroom dancing in Hong Kong, and I was very honoured,' she says.