Q&A: Katerina Eng
By Jaclyn Bethany
Photographed by Alida Rose Delaney
Katerina Eng is a student in the Juilliard School’s dance division. She has danced with San Francisco Ballet, Australian Ballet Theatre, and American Ballet Theatre.
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Katrina! What was your childhood like? How did you first discover dance?
Katerina Eng: My dad is from Singapore and my mum is from Australia. My parents have quite the romantic love story. They met during a production of The Music Man in Singapore, and the rest was history. They came to the United States to get married and [to] start their family. My family and I moved when I was seven from Fresno, California to Australia. It was there, in an elderly woman’s garage-turned-dance-studio, where I had my first ballet lessons. To this day I still remember learning pas de bourrée, holding onto my ballet teacher’s hand while her cats weaved and meowed around our feet. My family and I moved back to the US a year later, and I continued dancing. Whether I was choreographing ballets in my garage or taking ballet lessons, I was happy; I had an innate urge to express through movement the emotions and memories that the music expressed.
JB: When did you realize that dance could eventually be your career?
KE: When I was 13, I went to the Australian Ballet School to attend their summer training program. Up until that point, I thought that dance could only be a hobby. That, of course, was all turned upside down when I saw Hannah O’Neill (now a Premier Danseur at the Opéra national de Paris) rehearse a variation from La Bayadère. Seeing such grace and strength amazed me. I knew in that moment that I wanted to be a dancer; I wanted to embody that kind of ethereal, soulful strength and grace. With my newfound dream, I auditioned for the San Francisco Ballet School’s summer training program when I was 14 and was asked to stay to attend their school. I trained at SFBS for three years with some of my most beloved ballet teachers. Then I came to New York after being asked to join American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company. ABT’s Studio Company provides a trainee program to help young dancers with the transition from student to professional dancer.
JB: Is there a professional female dancer you admire, whom you would drop everything to see?
KE: I adore Sofiane Sylve. It sounds fan-girlish, but during my time at SFBS, she was my ballet idol. Apart from her impeccable technique and wondrous artistry, she is an amazing mentor and person. Please take a break from reading this interview and just go YouTube her name. Watch her dance Sleeping Beauty and William Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated. Whether constrained in a corseted tutu or flaunting her fierce lines in black tights, she exudes strength and power in a way that challenges the traditional fragility of the ballerina. One of my favorite moments shared with Sofiane was when she moved herself into the Trainee Women’s dressing room during SFB’s program of Romeo and Juliet. Myself and a few other ballet students were sharing a dressing room with our ballet teacher and an international ballet star...you know, no big deal.
She would chat with us and play music. What is so unique about her is that she is down-to-earth and truly takes an interest in each one of her students. It was a conversation in which she took the time to ask me what my aspirations were and offered some pearls of wisdom that inspired me to get outside of San Francisco’s small bubble and audition in New York (for the Juilliard School). She has left a lasting footprint in my journey as a dancer.
JB: What do you find beautiful about the female body?
KE: The beauty of the female body goes way deeper than skin and past the standards of what society discerns to be “beautiful.” What I find to be truly beautiful about the female body is its miraculous ability to create and to care for life. Throughout history, the female body has been treated as a sexualized object, rather than being praised for the miraculous fact that it can bring new life into this world! Instead, a large portion of society sees the main function and purpose of a woman’s breasts as a body part used to allure and to bring pleasure rather than for feeding a child. It sickens me that women are criticized for breast-feeding in public, that female students are shamed for their collarbones being too “distracting” for the boys at school... change is much needed. Now, more than ever before, there needs to be a change in the way we view, judge, and compare the female body. No matter what a woman chooses to wear, she should be respected. No matter what body she was born into, she should be respected.
JB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
KE: Be kind to yourself; be kind to all.