When Choo Chiat Goh and Lin Yee Goh first immigrated to Vancouver some 36 years ago, few in the city knew about their impressive past careers as principal dancers with the National Ballet of China.
As new immigrants are often forced to do, they faced the prospect of rebuilding their lives from scratch in a strange land.
And rebuild they did, this time focusing on dance education instead of performance.
Within a year, the Gohs had rented a modest studio on West 12th Avenue and were offering ballet classes to a handful of adults and children.
Thirty-five years later, the Goh name is synonymous with excellence in ballet education, and it's a legacy that has impacted three generations of Vancouver dancers, says Chan Hon Goh, the daughter of Choo Chiat and Lin Yee, and the current director of the Goh Ballet Academy.
"I've come across ladies that will be sitting in the waiting area of the school and they'll stop me as I walk by and say, 'I watched you dance as a little girl when I was an adult student of your father, and now I'm sitting here with my granddaughter in class,'" said Goh in a recent phone interview.
Today the Goh Ballet Academy inhabits an old bank building on Main Street; both the academy and the post-secondary youth program are now administered by Chan Hon Goh, herself a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada.
But one thing that has not changed in the intervening years is the manner in which the Goh Ballet Academy propels its students to international success (among the Goh Ballet Academy's alumni are soloists with the San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Birmingham Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre, as well as Alex Wong, a season seven finalist on So You Think You Can Dance).
"It's never been, 'let's have equilibrium and standardize everything,'" said Goh. "It's recognizing that special quality and giving individual attention where needed so that a student's innate talent can flourish."
Integral to building technique and fearlessness in each student is providing ample opportunities for them to practise their craft in front of a live audience.
That's why the Goh Ballet Academy is celebrating its 35th anniversary with an evening of dance that would be the envy of a professional company and one that includes as many students as possible.
The gala — which takes place at 7:30pm on June 1 at the Centre for the Performing Arts — is entitled Dance My Dreams.
The program features Walpurgisnacht by George Balanchine ("No other ballet company in Canada has had the right to dance this piece, so we were just so thrilled to have the permission and the belief and the trust that our students are capable," said Goh), the world premiere of a new work entitled Wonderland by Macedonian choreographer Sasha Evtimova, and the third act of August Bournonville's Napoli.
The Bournonville piece will feature more than 60 dancers on stage between the ages of 6 and 22, as well as sets and scenery borrowed from the National Ballet of Canada.
For Goh, who programmed Dance My Dreams, the evening is a compelling tribute to her parents and their enduring legacy. "We've always been a private school, and we've never relied on government for a hand-out," she said. "We're very much self-sustaining so they've faced the challenge of not going into the red because they believe in the artistry so much."
The Goh Ballet Academy could be looking for a new stage for its production of the Nutcracker this Christmas.
The venue, the Centre for the Performing Arts at 777 Homer, is being sold to the Westside Church. Because of the sale, the ballet's contract has been cancelled
Executive director Chan Hon Goh hopes the new owners agree to continue hosting the performance because of how well the venue is suited for the show.