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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:11am
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

''Real teachers are not in the school, but after school.'' The next teacher-parent night should be fun then.
Poor kid, hopefully she adjusts herself in later life. What crazy parents.
"Real teachers are not in the school, but after school," she says.
"You can only be sure when you have a tutor."
Then why spend 16k on a prestigious school? Oh wait, yes that's why .. cause it's all for the name.
OMG - when does she play? I hope she survives her childhood!
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.
Poster Child for Crazy Monster Parents. I don't think it will help her get into any good US College.
I think if I was Pearl I would die of embarrassment from having such insane parents. Also I would run away from home to the social services and request sane parents. The photo of Pearl with her trophies is creepy and makes my blood run cold.
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!
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.
How dare you over-achieve and show us up. Better write something cynical and bitter to put you down.
See the parents gloating in the pic..........they are the ones after the fame and glory (if any).......they are not doing all this for the child. They are typical monster parents doing all this so that they can brag and feel like they are better than other HK families.............Kind of a sick mentality.
Little Pearl certainly sounds like quite a dancer although I have not had the pleasure of seeing her dance. She may well be talented or even a prodigy as her proud parents claim and it must be wonderful to know your talents at such a young age. I did not discover mine until much later. It must be exciting or in some cases scary to discover that your child is a prodigy. But should you tell the whole world. Is it not better for the interests of your child to keep it a secret ? Encourage your child wholeheartedly in their talents by all means and invest in their future but don't shout from the roof tops about how brilliant your child is. This way if your child fails in their chosen endeavour or suffers setbacks they won't feel so upset and embarrassed. I don't recall reading about successful famous people like Richard Branson's, Lady Gaga's or Steve Job's parents' bragging about their offspring's talents. I have this message for Pearl's parents ' You have a clever child but don't talk about it.'
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?
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.
All photos show her smiling though........
I feel sorry for the kid.
I think the child is the mum, the girl is clearly a product of what her mum wish she could have in her life.
Poor kid.
To hongkiejj@malay this story is sad and tragic.
folks...lets not take away and simply brush aside pearl and her parents proud moment/accomplishment...its their child and if the parents decisively think this is their path...then let it go...
who are we to make dat judgement...its really none of you or my business to begin with...
instead of embracing and applauding this special child success....we are seeing bitter criticism and unappreciated comments here....maybe we should tell scmp to only publish sad and tragedy stories going forward....
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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