Lauren Hannani staff writer
Starting ballet when she was just three years old, dance teacher Chrissie Leong has always had a strong passion for dance, whether that meant dancing in front of a huge audience or alone in her room as a source of therapy.
After completing her undergraduate degree at UC Irvine, Leong went on to living in Washington, D.C., where her first professional dance job was for the National Dance Education Organization for a year and a half.
“[The job in D.C. was] when I learned to be an artist…working three jobs and a waitress, running to and from rehearsal and getting paid like $3 an hour. For a while, I just danced eight hours a day and then would be a waitress at night,” Leong said.
After learning to grow as a dancer in Washington, D.C., Leong moved to New York to get her masters degree in dance education at New York University and later went on to teach there. However, dancing in New York was a whole different experience.
“Dancing is very different in New York. They have Broadway and there’s all the major ballet companies, so you walk into class, and you’re with the best of the best that’s there,” Leong said. “And it’s a lot harder just to be in that environment where everyone is so good and has been dancing for so long. The bar is very high, but it showed me what dance could do. You’re also constantly surrounded by excellent art. Even the guy singing in the subway…like, he’s amazing. I don’t see any homeless people singing in LA!”
Dancing has also given Leong the chance to express herself in a way that provokes different reactions from an audience.
“Dance challenges you physically, mentally, and emotionally. You have to have emotion when you dance and portray something while being physically and mentally in check…I make you laugh, cry, gross you out, all without talking. It’s pure communication without words,” Leong said.
The art has also taught her how to deal with disappointment and rejection in life.
“I didn’t get the part so many times and there were so many auditions I went to where they just didn’t pick me,” Leong said. “That’s fine…you have to learn to deal with rejection. Because the world doesn’t always love me.”
Many of Leong’s students do love her because of the passion she provokes through her teaching and dancing.
“She’s really passionate about what she does, and it shows by how she pushes her students to do their best and actually progress,” junior Mila Hubschman said. “She knows what she’s talking about and what looks good, and also motivates me about dance in general and always trying my best.”
Leong hopes to continue dancing for many more years to fulfill her passion for the art every day. She plans on spending the rest of her life teaching others about the uniqueness that makes up dance.
“I’ve been dancing since I was a little kid…it’s the only thing I’ve really done,” Leong said. “I tried T-ball one year, and that didn’t go well. So after that, it’s just been dance. In eighth grade, I decided I wanted to be a dance teacher. I didn’t want to be a professional dancer. But it was something that I was blessed with, because with the arts, you need to have a natural knack with things, so I got lucky because I could go far with it. And I did.”