PEARL Chan isn't dancing much these days. But the baroness of ballroom dancing is hardly standing still either. She's staging dance presentations, corralling dancers, jetsetting and thriving as dance's unofficial ambassador and administrator. ''I hate failure,'' announces the former ballet dancer who does however claim two failed marriages. ''I refused to be a housewife.'' She left the barre after 30 years of teaching and relishes her current role of impresario. The growing numbers of young Hong Kong Chinese trying ballroom, tango, tap, you-name-it, invites the kind of grin coaches flash when their team nail the championship. When the curtain of the Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre stage rises this evening on a dozen dancers in the International Ballroom and Latin American show, familiar faces, as well as younger ones, will dot the audience. For the interview, Ms Chan - a tiny woman bathed in rose-coloured cotton - sat in the lobby of a hotel, reigning over a marble-top table, her mobile phone momentarily lying in repose next to her coffee cup. Her favourite indulgence (cream-filled almond rolls) brings out ''I shouldn't, really, but . . .''. The finger-sized pastries wreak havoc on the 1.53 metre tall frame, it's owner still grappling with a five-pound souvenir picked up on a recent trip. Ms Chan credits Strictly Ballroom and Flashdance, Canto-pop sound and light shows and Michael Jackson with helping to draw attention to dance. ''Hong Kong people work hard,'' she said. ''But we play hard too. Young people are discovering when you dance,you leave work behind. It's a release. It's exercise combined with meeting people. That doesn't happen when you watch television. ''Though the Chinese are more reserved, and may feel uneasy doing disco or Michael Jackson-type moves, ballroom is less threatening.'' Even though she rarely takes the floor these days, vicarious pleasure arrives [for her] with every competition and exhibition. ''When I see a graceful line, a technique perfectly executed, partnership, a dynamic stage presence, the music, the clothes, I want to relive my career. Be young. Dance again. But it takes two.'' During a whirlwind three-week holiday in Europe and the United States, work tagged along. Disneyland was a source of ideas on staging, lighting and packaging. In attracting a broader audience, ''the whole package'' is as critical as technique is to a professional dancer, she says. ''If we didn't think about creating the atmosphere, the public would be bored within an hour.'' Dance in Hong Kong lags behind in terms of competition-level talent. Japan has some excellent dancers due to its affluence and ties with the West. Malaysia and Singapore are also coming along nicely. ''For ballroom dance, or any dance for that matter, to progress and grow, it takes many factors working in harmony. Cultural attitudes, economics, politics. ''When a country or city is financially depressed, the last thing it spends money on is the arts. Then it is one thing for a government to have money and another to see whose hands have it and how they channel it.'' Ballroom filtered into the territory via Shanghai in the late 50s. But it arrived with an off-colour reputation, tinged with bar girls, smoky back-rooms and gambling. When the local society finally embraced it, dance also got a healthy boost from the government and the politicians. It waltzed into Pearl Chan's life around her 10th birthday. ''What else does the daughter of a rich family do? Back in those days, you'd study ballet.'' She studied for five years with the late Carol Bateman. Invitations to perform came often and eventually she was accepted into a school of art and dance in London. But the then 15-year old was totally unprepared. ''My face stuck out. I was the only Asian out of 200 girls and even the seven-year-olds were better than me. That's when I decided to teach.'' Her pet project, with a three-year deadline, is setting up teacher training and examination standards for ballroom dancing in Beijing. ''There's much dance in China these days. In a park in Beijing recently, I saw people, wearing mackintoshes, dancing in the rain. It was beautiful.'' When she does, her favourite partners include Chung King-Fai (the dean of drama at the Academy of Performing Arts) - ''he relaxes and simply loves to dance'' -and Dr Stanley Ho. ''He has that elegant presence, the demeanour,'' she explains with a glint in her eye. Then the teacher in her voice returns. ''But Dr Ho is a bit too tall. That height difference doesn't make for a good line. ''He would have to bend some to talk to me, his shoulders would stoop a bit. ''No. That wouldn't make for a good line.''