The prestigious New York City Ballet (NYCB) has been active since 1948, and only four Asian people in the establishment’s history have been promoted to the highest position of principal dancer. Chun Wai Chan is the first company dancer of Chinese ancestry to have been chosen for this rank. He recently debuted in this distinction with the NYCB’s Fall 2022 season; his impeccable technique and alluring charisma are both receiving much acclaim.
Chan, raised in Guangdong, China, discovered his passion for dance early on. He began ballet at the age of 6 after being inspired by his sister, who was also a dancer. The journey to becoming a principal was by no means an easy task. However, even in a notoriously competitive industry, Chan stood out and was able to flourish in his career.
Prior to joining the NYCB, Chan was a principal for the Houston Ballet; his performance at one of their shows garnered the attention of NYCB’s resident choreographer, Justin Peck. Peck reached out to him and offered an audition for the ballet company - a rare feat since almost all of the NYCB dancers were selected as apprentices from the School of American Ballet, and auditions were seldom arranged. Chan joined the NYCB as a soloist in August 2021. Combining elements of the Chinese-Vaganova style with the NYCB’s signature Balanchine repertoire has made Chun a captivating ballet dancer.
Since then, Chan has gone on to create his own ballet studio, Chunner Studio, to uplift a growing community of young Asian American dancers. “I now happen [to be] in a place that inspires a lot of male dancers, that inspires dancers who are Asian. I would love to inspire more and more people in that way.” He commented in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
While Chan’s career with the NYCB has just begun, his impact is undeniable. Asian American prominence in Western performing arts is few and far between, but the future is bright for those who wish to pursue these professions with people like Chun Wai Chan leading the way.
Editor: Leila W.