When 25-year-old Chun Wai Chan was named principal dancer by the Houston Ballet late last year, a dream came true far sooner than he had expected.
"I was named first soloist in June 2017, and I thought it would take me a couple of years before I made it to a principal," said Chan.
Born in Huizhou, Guangdong province, Chan began dancing in elementary school at the local Children's Palace. Gifted, he was encouraged to apply to Guangzhou Arts School and was admitted in 2004 when he was 12. He later moved to Hong Kong with his family.
"That meant I had to leave home and go to Guangzhou. My family did not want me to be away and all voted against this. I wrote three long letters to my father, explaining why I wanted to do this. Eventually my family was convinced that this was truly my passion and let me go. I went, I missed home and I cried," Chan said.
Chan said he's grateful that a teacher focused his attention on training when he was homesick, and he trained hard. "I had my dreams. I wanted to win prizes and I wanted to study overseas."
He wouldn't rest or eat unless he finished the daily 50 leg kicks, and he exercised his stomach muscles and leg muscles in bed at night. He took photos of his own movements to improve.
The work paid off and in 2010 he joined Houston Ballet II on a full scholarship, going on to win the Promising Student Award in 2011.
Chan joined the Houston Ballet two years later. The world-class troupe puts on more than 70 performances a year. It gave Chan opportunities to perform various roles in Houston and around the world. He was invited to collaborate with dance groups in other cities.
In the summer of 2015, when the assigned soloist couldn't perform, Chan became the main character in Serenade.
"I did a total of seven performances. My knee became inflamed, I had a fever, my head hurt, but I persevered and did all that was requested of me," he said.
But Chan's skill and dedication impressed Houston Ballet and he was promoted to soloist in June last year and became one of five principal male dancers in December.
Chan is also interested in modeling and becoming an actor. He created Chunner Studio to make dance-related videos and put them on various social media outlets, including YouTube.
"Dance has been an integral part of my life. It's my career, my passion and my hobby. In the future, no matter what I do, it will be something related to dance. If I do some acting, I want to incorporate my dance into that too," Chan said.