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  • Aug 30, 2014
  • Updated: 8:12am
NewsHong Kong
EDUCATION

Hong Kong child prodigy, age 5, passes 11 international dance exams in one day

Children are thrown into break-neck competition almost as soon as they can walk. In the first of a series, the Post talks to the mother of a prodigy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 3:51am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 11:33am

At the age of three, she started to learn Latin and ballroom dancing. At four, she became the youngest person in Hong Kong to pass 11 international dance exams in one day.

Now, at the age of five, she has become the youngest person in the city to earn a gold, a silver and a bronze medal from the same body, the Britain-based International Dance Teachers Association.

Soon, when she turns six, she will take another exam, for a pre-associate licence qualifying her to be an assistant dance teacher.

Pearl Chan Pui-yee's is the story of a typical child prodigy. Her mother, who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on Pearl's activities, is one of the many caring and constantly worrying mothers in Hong Kong.

"I want her to go to a boarding school in America or Canada, but the competition these days is so huge," says Selina Lam Sai-yan, Pearl's mother. "Being able to play piano is like being able to type. You're abnormal if you don't learn."

Lam says she once called a prestigious US boarding school and asked if her child could get admitted to the school if she earned a Grade 8 in piano.

"She said, 'So what? Everyone has a Grade 8 nowadays'," says Lam, who is in her 30s. "She asked me where I lived. I said Hong Kong and she said everyone in Hong Kong knows some instrument."

So does Pearl. Not only outstanding in dancing, she has won awards in singing, piano, harp and even golf. She is learning violin as well, but Lam says she has not done well enough to win anything.

Lam lays out all her daughter's trophies and medals on the floor of their home - 45 of them, not counting awards in the form of certificates.

"No one can force her to do this. She wouldn't have won so many awards if she was forced to learn," Lam says. "If you don't allow her to dance, she'll lose the interest of her life."

Lam says her daughter likes watching Disney cartoons and always imagines herself being a princess, wearing ballroom dresses and dancing.

"She wants to own those beautiful dresses herself," says Lam, adding that she had bought five dresses for her daughter the previous week.

She keeps buying new clothes for Pearl, sometimes with matching handbags, because she says the child gets bored with one outfit very quickly.

Pearl has the love of music in her genes, says Lam, as her husband likes to dance tango and salsa, mix music and play violin and piano. She says her daughter dances naturally when she hears music and writes notes to herself in music theory books. And she begged her parents for a violin for two years.

"We have to deal with huge economic pressure for her to learn so many things," says Lam. "She likes playing instruments more than playing with toys. We can't ban her from learning if she has talent, can we?"

Previously a merchandiser, Lam quit her job to focus on her daughter's education as her homework load increased.

Pearl studies at one of the city's most expensive international schools, Yew Chung, which charges about HK$16,000 a month.

On top of the tuition fee, Lam and her husband spend more than HK$20,000 a month on their daughter's after-school activities and tutoring.

"Would you be happy if you didn't win awards?" asks Lam.

"No," Pearl smiles, shaking her head.

"Would you be happy if you didn't dance?" asks Lam.

Another negative.

Although Pearl is accompanied by their domestic helper when her parents are not at home, they installed a CCTV camera in their house in Tai Po.

"She jumps around all the time. You don't know what she'd do when we're not here," says her father, Peter Chan Tsz-man, who works in information technology.

To get the pre-associate licence, Pearl has to memorise page after page of postures and techniques. She also has a tutor in music theory. Knowing this would be a challenge for a five-year-old, Lam says she can take two years to pass the exam.

Believing that China will dominate the world's economy, Lam recently hired a Putonghua tutor for her daughter.

"Real teachers are not in the school, but after school," she says.

"You can only be sure when you have a tutor."

 

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This article is now closed to comments

fine7575
Log in for the first time to write a comment. Really wonder who decided to put this story on frontpage and what reason. Can any editor in SCMP answer? Is it SCMP's new way to go?
daily
Yeah, after seeing this as headline news, the only thought that came to my mind was that even Apple Daily wouldn't put such a piece of useless news on front page............can't imagined that it happened here.................this piece of information or so-called article probably should have been shoved under the "Lifestyle" section or lower............
CatherineOhlLaw
Sadly, 99% of super talented/gifted/performing/precotious kids even out with their peers by their mid-twenties, and when they have the maturity to adapt to this "ordinariness" can go on to become great teachers, albeit at the cost of an entire childhood. The main thing to consider THEN, is weather that has brought them happiness and fulfillement.
Paradox314
She quickly gets bored of outfits so the mother has to frequently buy her new ones with matching handbags? This says a great deal. Her dance accomplishment is incredible and I would never want to say anything to diminish it. But a person has many sides - what is being forgotten in this rush to impress with surface credentials and awards? What about the heart? What about love and community? Hong Kong doesn't really need flamenco dancers as much as it needs caring and compassionate community leaders in the decades to come.
dw_
How dare you over-achieve and show us up. Better write something cynical and bitter to put you down.
sipsip1238
So the parents pretty much answered all the questions for her...and then told her specific answers to respond with if she was asked whether she'd lose interest.
I am sure she is very talented, but sadly, she is in for a massive surprise when she realises that she is still a toad in a well.
True success comes from knowing there are plenty of people more talented and smarter than you, and also knowing how to hire and effectively manage such people.
What they have taught and brought up is a good staff, not someone who has independant thought.
Hum-Balang
What it cost to raise Pearl:
1) Monthly $16k at Yew Chung, $20k after-school tuitions, loss of mother's income say $50k p.m., maid $4k, tally $90k
2) Assuming Pearl finishes her "education" ahead of all in the known world, at 12, from 9-12 at a boarding school at the Big Apple with the mother by her side, the Lams would have spent close to HK$14M on Pearl. HK$1.1M a pop, per annum.
3) Pearl becomes Emeritus **** practising flamenca ballet jazz diva professoress, and an 'exiciting' new entry in the 2021 World Guiness Book of Records, under the category of Leisure/Entertainment subsection Dance.
.
She still has to look forward to pimples, puberty and her first date. Oh, she also has the rest of her life to live down to.
.
On the other hand wouldn't one think the Carnegies, the Kochs, the Rothchilds, the Lis and Foks of this world would want nothing more than to live their lives as uneventfully as they billions can afford them?
sebvong
Poster Child for Crazy Monster Parents. I don't think it will help her get into any good US College.
CatInAFlap
''Real teachers are not in the school, but after school.'' The next teacher-parent night should be fun then.
carbonneutralnigel
a child will "love" whatever parents' direct them to "like"...............even if its heroin or LSD..........!!......................lets hope Yew Chung does not represent a centre for monster-kids!

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