'I was put on this earth to dance': Big opportunity awaits young ballet star

Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong said there's a science behind ballet that combines both art and athleticism....
Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong said there's a science behind ballet that combines both art and athleticism. PHOTO: THE PORTRAIT STUDIO
A promising young dancer has been accepted into one of New York’s most prestigious ballet schools but there’s one thing standing in her way.

She needs to find $73,000 to get there.

Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong fell in love with the world of ballet when she was three after watching a KidsFest performance.

Now the 19-year-old is the second dancer from New Zealand to be accepted into Joffrey Ballet School and even received a merit scholarship to go towards her tuition.

The first New Zealand dancer to attend Joffrey is Lily Cartwright, co-director at Canterbury Ballet and Lo-Fo-Wong’s teacher.

“I pretty much freaked out, I thought this isn’t real and I think part of me still doesn’t believe it,” she said.

“I really want to go, it’s such an opportunity, it’s what little me has dreamed about.”

Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong worries that she won't be able to make it over to New York if she can't raise...
Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong worries that she won't be able to make it over to New York if she can't raise the funds needed to get her there. Photo: Supplied
Lo-Fo-Wong joined a pre-professional programme with Canterbury Ballet when she was 12, training 30 hours a week alongside school and now fits classes in around work.

She’s currently working at Coffee Culture at The Crossing and a recruitment agency, picking up as many hours as she can, as well as cleaning her dance company’s ballet studio in return for free classes.

For Lo-Fo-Wong, ballet is about combining art with athleticism, practising being graceful yet strong when performing on stage.

"I think it’s just my way of expressing myself.

"Nowadays people struggle with anxiety and expressing how they feel and I think finding different ways to do that is important and for me that’s through dance."

Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong and mother Jaimita de Jongh. Photo: Supplied
Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong and mother Jaimita de Jongh. Photo: Supplied
Lo-Fo-Wong’s mother, Jaimita de Jongh, admitted she thought her daughter’s interest in ballet would pass and that it was just a phase.

"A year later she was still on and on about the ballet," de Jongh said.

"She can’t stop dancing even if you tell her to stop. When she was little I used to say don’t do pirouettes in the lounge, there’s no space here."

Dance has taken Lo-Fo-Wong on a tour around the South Island as well as a visit to Queensland, and even to the New Prague Dance Festival, where she was one of six to win an international Talent of Dance Award in 2016.

Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong and mother Jaimita de Jongh are doing all they can to pull together enough...
Ayiana Lo-Fo-Wong and mother Jaimita de Jongh are doing all they can to pull together enough money to get Ayiana to New York, including working at Coffee Culture. Photo: Supplied
Lo-Fo-Wong has support from her family, with her parents and grandparents chipping in to help get her to New York.

“We’re putting everything aside and saving as much as we can. We’ll just have to make it happen,” de Jongh said.

She said it’s difficult to get funding for dancing in New Zealand and has trawled through all the funding options but hasn’t been successful with securing any.

Lo-Fo-Wong said it would mean everything to her to attend Joffrey Ballet School after all the hard work and countless hours of training she’s put in.

"Sometimes I have those moments where I freak out, like what if we can’t afford New York, what if this is never going to happen, like what am I going to do?

"I can’t do anything else, I was put on this earth to dance," she said.

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