• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 6:42pm
NewsHong Kong

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

Horrifying. The SCMP should not glorify such nonsense.
wallow eh.....obviously she is "d" someone special....congratulations to her and her parents....hopefully when she grows older, her passion will continue to grow...
to those envious commentators, be nice and complimentary...hardly you heard someone @ her age accomplished more than you do in your lifetime...
No, I probably never will accomplish more dancing prizes that all looks exactly the same in my lifetime.
But I sure as hell know I have accomplished things that I have decided on for myself and not a reflection of what my mum/dad would've wanted for themselves.
neither will I nor my kids too but dat is not the point....perhaps we should look at this in a different angle.
think of the sacrifices and the passion involved here...you need 2 to tango...although she is still a child..i do believe if she does not have dat passion and luv for dancing...it really does not matter how much her parents force her. you need to somehow have dat natural born talent to do so...dat is extraordinary..
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............
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?
Yes perhaps. I guess to each their own...and maybe she's mature enough to figure that out even if she's still pretty young.
The first paragraph clashes with the second. "She" in the second refers to the mother but should be about the child.



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