Pirouettes in the Prairies: A Ballet Master Class with Chan Hon Goh | By Srosh Hassan

On the bright morning of February 8th Mrs. Chan Hon Goh, Director of the Goh Ballet Academy and former prima ballerina of the National Ballet of Canada arrived at the Edmonton School of Ballet for the fourth stop in her annual Master Class series tour for 2015. The tour is an opportunity for aspiring dancers aged 10 to 18 to be instructed for a two hour session by one of Canada’s most phenomenal dancers. She had just arrived from the airport, having flown in from Winnipeg first thing in the morning, but was more than ready to work with the class of young students.

Chan Hon Goh was born in Beijing to two principal dancers in the National Ballet of China. She immigrated with her family to Vancouver where she studied in the professional program at the Goh Ballet Academy. Upon graduation she joined The National Ballet of Canada as a Principal Dancer. Throughout her illustrious 20 year stage career, Mrs. Goh has appeared with numerous dance companies throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. Her autobiography Beyond the Dance, A Ballerina’s Life was a finalist nominee for the 2003 Norma Fleck Award and the 2005 Rocky Mountain Book Award. Mrs. Goh was also the recipient of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her outstanding contributions and dedication to Arts and Culture throughout Canada. In 2010, she became the Director of the Goh Ballet Academy and Youth Company in Vancouver, BC.

While her students warmed up with a grand plié or two, she sat with me for a few minutes.

“You’ve said that this Series is an opportunity to give back to the Canadian dance community. Is that something that comes from a need you think needs filling in the Canadian Ballet Community?”

“I feel that young dancers in any city across Canada don’t have regular exposure to master classes, [and] workshops or teachers that aren’t their regular teachers could get them thinking in a different way. The essence of these classes is so they can take their experience back with them into their regular schools, whether it be something new, or just thinking harder about what they already know. I want to create an access for young dancers to further inspire and give them a chance to ask me any questions.”

“That’s great because usually it’s older dancers who have the opportunity to attend master classes, but with what you’re doing is inspiring younger dancers, giving them a chance to gain something from someone with so much extensive performance experience.”

“Yes, precisely!”

“So what led you to begin the series?”

“It’s something that I’m trying to build on an annual basis, my primary access to the ballet community across the country. I’m able to get to know and slowly build connections so that year after year I can see the dancers’ progress as well. I would like to know the different standards in training, the different needs of dancers, whether there are common holes in the training, or common influences as well. In many ways, it’s as much as a learning experience for me to teach them, as it is for them to be able to access my teachings.”

“Making the transition from a performer to an instructor, you say you’ve learned a lot since you began the Master Classes. What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?”

“I’ve learned that for my body to sense how to do it in a natural way where I don’t have to analyze it as much, that’s something that is developed through the years. It happens more without thinking, but to be able to pass on the how-to or to help them get better with a certain step, I’ve had to break the step down and then be able to find what to say so that they can absorb it and understand it.”

“So as Director of the Goh Ballet Academy, tell me about how it feels going into your fifth year in that position and what the job entails.”

“Being Director is multifaceted so I have to know and manage all aspects of the academy; the curriculum, the class schedule, the staff, the quality of teaching, and the repertoire. It’s a job I’ve stepped into and have learned how to conduct because of the way that the dance world is evolving. It’s very important for me to bring to the Goh Ballet in Vancouver what is true and tested. We have a system and a history of over 35 years of training and amazing graduates and dancers but it’s also about bringing in new knowledge, innovation and choreography.”


“Alright, just wrapping up. Do you think you are the kind of role model you would’ve wanted when you were younger?”

“I think part of this is for me is trying to impart on younger generation dancers that they need to believe in themselves and that even though it may not have been done before, you should reach for your goals and pursue your dreams. As a woman and previous ballerina, I hope to impart that confidence and leave them not being afraid to break through the challenges and to not give up.”

“So how do you see this continuing in the future?”

“I hope to hold my Master Class series every year across Canada, as well as engaging more with people on a regular basis via social media. We now have our own Facebook and Twitter account, and it’s a way to have consistency and be involved with the dance community across Canada.”

Chan Hon Goh can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Cover photo courtesy of Goh Ballet and Kharen Hill.
Other photography courtesy of Wanderer Online Photographer Prasann Patel.

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