Dong Xue, a native of Shangdong Province, has been dancing in Germany since 2004.
Her childhood dream was to become a fashion designer.
“I made clothes and shoes for Barbie dolls out of an old umbrella,” she recalled in a telephone interview with Shanghai Daily when she was in Beijing earlier for a short stay.
She took up ballet in primary school in Shenzhen when a teacher, Wang Xiaorong, graduate of the Shanghai Dance School, chose several students for a dance group.
“Back then I was just a little girl who wanted to dance, a very simple thought,” Dong said.
After primary school, the teacher suggested she apply to Shanghai Dance School and become a professional dancer, but her parents said she was too young. In 1993 she went to the Guangdong Dance School.
She enrolled almost by chance when she and her father went there to take a look — it happened to be the day of the preliminary exam.
“I just went in, bought a leotard and shoes, and in the end I ranked first and was enrolled,” she said.
She was not yet 10 years old when she began the six-year program; her class of 30 included 15 girls, 15 boys. After graduation in 1999, she entered the Beijing Dance Academy.
“People asked why not the film academy ... but all I wanted to do was dance,” she said. Her family was supportive.
In her senior year, Dong went to Germany on an exchange program at the School of Dance at the Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts. Her teacher Li Chunhua encouraged her. “She gave me confidence to express myself on stage and her recommendation change my life,” Dong said.
She stayed on for a year but language was a problem.
“I didn’t know any German, I had to use a dictionary at the supermarket,” she said. “At times I was sick and missed my family. I had to be mature.”
First she learned English, then German. The students came from different countries, so they primarily communicated in English.
After graduation, headmaster Birgit Keil became artistic director of the troupe at Baden State Theater. She asked Dong to audition.
In 2004, when she joined the company, she danced the pas de deux from “Sleeping Beauty” at the company’s annual gala.
“It was a good start. Europeans usually think Aurora from ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is blond, and then they saw an Asian girl on stage,” she said.
She got a solo part in “Paquita.” She hadn’t properly treated a foot blister and it became infected, but she danced through the pain during dress rehearsal.
“I didn’t express the pain on my face, but I sweated too much and it hurt so much when I took of my shoes,” she said.
She figured out a way to carry on: she cut a hole in the pointe shoe so it didn’t rub against the blister.
“An opportunity like this is rare. If I gave up at that time, people would doubt me,” Dong said.
She started to dance main roles in 2007, notably “The Temple Dancer,” an adaptation of “La Bayadere” in Indian style. The principal dancer was injured after three performances and Dong was asked to step in.
“I had learned the dance but it’s different to perform on stage. I said I would try but I didn’t have much confidence,” she said.
She excelled and that led to the role of the mother in Peter Breuer’s “Tchaikovsky” and Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Her favorite role is Nikiya, the temple dancer on “La Bayadere” because it’s closer to her personality.
Almost none of the company’s dancers are German natives. The season starts in September and closes in July. Christmas and Easter are the busiest times. When the season ends she usually takes a break and returns to China for six weeks.
“The life here is simple. There are too many distractions in China and no time to calm down, I really admire the dancers in China who are able to stay away from the distractions and dance,” she said.