Jean Wong - Ballet school principal
Within minutes of meeting Jean Wong at the Sha Tin studio of her ballet school, her love for her art and her students is palpable. Sitting ruler-straight on a chair, she nods approvingly at star pupil Lam Chun-wing and offers him valuable nuggets of advice about make-up and posture.
Wong, who founded the Jean M Wong School of Ballet 51 years ago, credits her mother with helping her find her calling as a ballerina and teacher. 'My mother had a very sharp eye for beauty, and I think that greatly influenced my life. She would take me to see Chinese operas and old Hollywood movies, which definitely made an imprint on my mind,' says Wong, who is from Shanghai.
Her first artistic encounter was music when she learned to play the piano. She also learned to paint. Ballet came later and it was like love at first sight. 'My hobby and pleasure in life is ballet. Looking back, ballet combines all the arts - painting because of the sceneries, music and drama,' says Wong, who went to London to study at the teacher-training college of the Royal Academy of Dance in 1956. She returned brimming with ballet theories and was determined to put into practice what she had mastered. In 1960, and 'not knowing that I needed to pay rent, I just started my own school', Wong says. 'But I think I had so much passion that word soon spread and I had more students, including children from famous families.'
Wong says promoting the tradition of ballet in Hong Kong remains a challenge to this day. She says: 'You have to communicate with the children and the parents. Ballet doesn't have a long history in Hong Kong, so you don't expect [them] to understand its tradition.' Wong encourages her students and their families to buy ballet DVDs and to see ballet performances so that they can appreciate the art form.
Of all things taught to her students, Wong considers discipline the most important.'You can't become anybody of importance without self-control, especially for a dancer,' she says. 'Everything in ballet has to be perfect. A desire to reach perfection is important for ballerinas.'
Wong says she inherited discipline from her father, a banker who was strict but generous. 'He helped a lot of people who were in difficulties. I think that was one of the reasons I started the Tsinforn C Wong Memorial Scholarship.' Established in 1973 as the Tsinforn C Wong Scholarship, it was renamed the Tsinforn C. Wong Memorial Scholarship in 1983 in remembrance of Wong's late father.
Wong attributes her achievements to her 'sheer dedication and absolute commitment'.
'I'll never say 'that's enough',' says Wong, adding that she doesn't want to retire because for her retiring means moving backwards. 'I hate to think that I'm going backwards. I've always wanted to go forward. That's my motto.'