Dubai Dance Academy is widely recognized as the first ballet school in the UAE that teaches the French method of classical ballet. It was founded in 2011 by Reiko Cheong – teacher, performer and life-long ballerina.
Cheong has performed across the world stage for over 20 years, and won the National Ballet performance title in Japan at only 17.
Since its inception, the Dubai Dance Academy has hosted a yearly Ballet Grand Gala that invites world-class performers from the renowned Paris Opera National Ballet to take the stage in Dubai. The academy has recently opened a new dance studio in Al Quoz and is gradually expanding as more people in the region gravitate towards ballet.
We sat down with Cheong to learn more about her experiences of starting a school in Dubai, the taboo of male ballet performers and acceptance of the art form in the region.
How did you get into ballet?
I was born in Japan and like most girls we went to either ballet or piano school. So I’ve been a ballerina pretty much my whole life.
When did you decide you want to do it professionally?
I started dreaming of becoming a professional ballerina since I was about 10 years old. Participating and winning many local ballet competitions gave me a lot of encouragement.
What steps did you take to become a world class performer?
When I was 20 I went to Paris to study ballet professionally and since then I’ve performed on numerous stages. Even after I got married I travelled around the world performing and teaching ballet.
Why did you start teaching ballet in Dubai?
When I came to Dubai I had little or no idea about the city. I moved here from Singapore and started teaching Pilates since I was unsure of the regional popularity of ballet. But when people learnt I was a professional ballet teacher they all nudged me to teach.
Students at Dubai Dance Academy
Are people in the region generally interested in ballet?
Yes, At Dubai Dance Academy we host a yearly performance that is quite popular. Event companies also contact us regularly for performers in a theatre, at an event or an activation in a public location like a mall.
We are currently planning a theatrical ballet with an orchestra and usually host our events at the Madinat Jumeirah Theatre which opens to a packed house.
What demographics attend ballet classes in the UAE?
We have programs for both children and adults. My students include both UAE nationals and expats. Being one of the most senior ballet teachers in the UAE I also host an open class for teachers every Thursday morning.
Students at rehearsal
How many young male students attend your classes?
I used to have 3 but now there’s only one.
These days ballet is used by a lot of male athletes including Boxers, Martial artists, American footballers and more. Do you think it is still taboo in the region?
Yes it is and I wish that with time more boys and families understand that ballet is not just an art but it is also a highly physical activity.
How can ballet be popularized in the region?
I’ve been inviting guest dancers from Paris Opera National Ballet into Dubai Dance Academy’s annual performance since 2013, Ballet Gala 2014-2017.
Performers from the Paris Opera National Ballet
What is your long-term goal for ballet in the region?
My dream is to create a royal ballet school and a national conservatory
Ballet is an art but it also helps people stay in shape. What advice can you give young people out there?
As a ballerina, I recognize balance easily. So Id advice young people to limit their use of electronic devices. It is making the younger generation evolve into bad postures and muscle memory can take a long time to be corrected.
For more info visit www.dubaidanceacademy.com