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Straz Center's 'Next Generation' program accepts first international student

Posted at 4:25 PM, Oct 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-08 16:25:14-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Straz Center is known for musicals and plays, but their ballet program is making big moves.

For the first time, an international student is joining in their one-year Next Generation program.

One of the students, 20-year-old Chai Wong, has traveled all the way from Hong Kong to Tampa.

“I expect that I can learn more and have more great performances with them, to make me stay in U.S.,” said Wong.

Next Generation ballet already has 45 students from all over the country, but Wong is the first international student. It’s like a one-year foreign exchange program for ballerinas.

“There is a certain set of standards that we have to meet, to make sure she is well fed, well taken care of, that she has housing, that she’s getting her education,” said artistic director Phillip Neal.

Wong said her studio in Hong Kong could only teach her so much, she needed more.

“I want to get into a professional company, professional ballet company,” said Wong.

“I’m polishing her up, introducing her to some more American styles of dance so she has a broader scope of knowledge of the audition circuit,” said Neal.

It’s one small pirouette for Wong, one giant twirl for the Straz Center.

“I want to be one of those cities that’s thought of like San Francisco, Houston, New York, Tampa for their ballet.”

Neal hopes to gradually add more students from outside the U.S. into the mix, making the Straz almost like an international training center for dance.

“To have dancers at the barr from all over the world sharing their experiences and also maybe their techniques,” said Neal.

Wong,along with all her fellow Next Generation Dancers, will be performing in the Nutcracker in November.