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The highs and lows of a life dedicated to ballet

It’s sometimes said that ballet is “the ultimate in human movement.” But behind the fluttery costumes and exquisitely pointed toes, there are tales of sweat, tears, disappointment, and struggle.

Teng Rong’er, 16 years old, is just one of many girls who dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Five years ago, as a sophomore at the Secondary School Attached to the Beijing Dance Academy, she met photographer Zhu Jiang, who was impressed by her performance at a student recital. Having seen that Teng showed great promise in her career, Zhu decided to keep an eye on her growth as a dancer. Since then, he has taken photos every time she gave a performance.

Teng’s journey began with amateur dance courses in her hometown of Jinan, Shandong province. When a teacher noticed her outstanding talent and suggested she should apply for a professional dance school, the Secondary School Attached to the BDA became her dream. After hours of practice and watching high-level dance competitions to strengthen her resolve, Teng passed the entrance exam at her dream school less than a year later.

But getting in turned out to be the easy part: despite her efforts, her new teachers disparaged her small stature and poor physique, and even suggested she quit and return to her hometown. But “I just couldn’t imagine saying farewell to ballet,” Teng says, and so she stayed, bled, sweat, and toiled until they—and Zhu—were convinced.

Zhu’s lenses record Teng’s growth over the years, and from through it, her transformation from a struggling student to a seasoned performer. “She was rebuilt by ballet,” Zhu says. “I know that she belongs to the stage.”

Photography by Zhu Jiang (朱绛)


En Pointe” is a story from our issue, “Fantasy”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store

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Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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