New York City Ballet’s Chun Wai Chan Is Making Moves

January 4, 2022

Last fall, as New York City Ballet’s dancers navigated their return to the stage following pandemic shutdowns, Chun Wai Chan had an additional­ challenge to contend with: joining a new company. “I am the kind of person who always­ wants to challenge myself and learn as much as I can,” says Chan, who made his soloist debut with NYCB in Justin Peck’s Pulcinella Variations. It was a fitting start, considering that Chan was first drawn to the company after working with Peck on his 2019 ballet Reflections, when Chan was a principal with Houston Ballet. “The movement and music were very unique, and something was calling me to come here—to the city, the company, the dancers, the style,” says Chan. “I’m so excited to be back onstage, in a new company, learning everything.” 

Chun Wai Chan dances in between lage columns, his limbs reaching forward while his hips sink back
Photo by Kyle Froman
Chun Wai Chan reaches up while leaning over a lunge to the side on the balcony outside the Koch Theater
Photo by Kyle Froman

Pursuing his dream:

“At only 11 or 12 years old, I wrote my parents a letter asking them to let me go to an arts school in Guangzhou. They were very hesitant because they didn’t know what my future would be like in dance, but they realized that’s what I really loved.”

Dancing Balanchine:

“I studied Vaganova in China and didn’t know very much about Balanchine until coming to the U.S. I was like, ‘How come I never knew about this?’ The way the movement fits the body and moves with the music is something you can’t find with any other choreographer.

His TV debut on China’s “Dance Smash”:

“They messaged me on Instagram, and at first, I thought it was a scam! When the pandemic happened, I had the time to do the show. For the camera, you know that it’s going to be online forever, so I really had to make sure that every show was perfect, and that my expressions were on point.”

His ballet start:

“When I was in kindergarten, I watched my sister perform in a recital, and she was my inspiration. I found that in the studio, the teachers paid attention to me and were happy with what I did, versus in academic schooling, they were not always happy even though I had been trying hard and asking a lot of questions.”

Dealing with onstage curveballs:

“As a lead dancer, sometimes it’s not about how high you jump or how many turns you can do—it’s how well you can manage what happens onstage.”

His new city life:

“I’m looking forward to exploring more museums, and more art and music. There are so many talented people in this city from different places and backgrounds, which is something I really enjoy.”