My Vancouver – Then & Now Series
As one of the most desirable cities in the world in which to live, Vancouver has played a pivotal role in the destinies of many athletes, performers and creative minds. Whether as a stepping stone at the beginning of their long careers (Academy Award –winner Jim Erickson); a safe harbour for immigrants to start again (Prima Ballerina, Chan Hon Goh ) or reaching the pinnacle of their life’s work here ( NHL’s ‘Captain Canuck’, Trevor Linden, ) the celebrated personalities of this new Inside Vancouver Series by Laura Goldstein, all have one thing in common: MY VANCOUVER THEN & NOW is immeasurably in their hearts.
“I remember leaving China with my parents at 8 years old, crossing the Pacific and staring at a piece of broccoli from my in-flight meal asking what that was,” laughs former National Ballet of Canada Prima Ballerina, Chan Hon Goh now Director of The Goh Ballet Academy and Youth Company of Canada in Vancouver. Skyping from Beijing where she is the Guest of Honour at The Beijing International Ballet & Choreographic Competition, Goh was invited by Madam Zhao Ruheng Artistic Director of the National Ballet of China. Ironically, both Goh’s parents were celebrated principal dancers with the same company in the ‘60s but when Western classical ballet was forbidden during the Cultural Revolution, immigrated with Chan in 1976 for a better life in Vancouver.
Although Goh’s life may appear superficially like a fairytale, her parents’ struggle as new Canadian immigrants had an enormous impact on their daughter growing up and her perseverance to achieve. “It was a very big decision for them to decide to leave China, then start a ballet school in my Aunt’s basement in 1978. There weren’t as many Chinese in Vancouver then and we grew up in a predominantly white neighbourhood.” “Even though I had completed grade 1 in China,” explains Goh, “I had to attend ESL classes here because I spoke no English at all.” Given ballet instruction by her parents, “Everyone at their dance studio was equal, and that really instilled the passion in me to succeed.”
After completing Sentinel Secondary School in West Vancouver, Goh started to take part in international ballet competitions. She was the first Canadian to receive the Silver Medal at the Genée International Ballet Competition in London, England.
Goh joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1988, becoming a principal dancer in 1994. Performing internationally, she received critical raves for her emotional depth and elegant interpretations in title roles in Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, The Firebird, Madame Butterfly and La Sylphide.
“No one likes to think about retiring- ballet is such a short-lived career,” says Goh, “but after 20 years of dancing and thinking about my next step, Karen (Kain) said to me ‘refuel and energize and see where life will lead you.’ It was great advice,” she admits now. She and her husband, Chun Che (former principal dancer with the National Ballet of China,) and Vice Principal of The Goh Academy, started a business – Principal Shoes – designing pointe shoes and distributing to markets around the world. Then, with her parents ready to retire, how prophetic that Goh come full circle and accept the reins, becoming Director of The Goh Academy and Youth Company of Canada in 2010. “This appointment was very near and dear to my heart,” she confides.
“I love Vancouver- but one of the hardships of my work is having to be indoors,” says Goh. “ We are so lucky to have good clean air here. We live in West Vancouver and have access to the seawall and great beaches. I try to take my 7-year-old son, Aveary to programs at the Vancouver Symphony and Art Gallery as often as possible.”
“Directing and producing The Nutcracker every year at The Centre with members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, is an amazing challenge for me,” admits Goh, used to being out front performing, she had to learn all the ins and outs of mounting the annual classic. “I wanted Vancouver to have the exceptional production that every large city in Canada has and this will be our 5th year.”
In celebration of the Goh Ballet’s 35th Anniversary year in 2013, the family dynasty of dance (founders, Choo Chiat Goh and Lin Yee Goh with their daughter, Chan Hon Goh) were presented with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, by The Honourable Hedy Fry, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the arts in Vancouver and Canadian culture.