NOV 23, 2016

Chinese-Born YuanYuan Tan Became the Most Recognized Asian Ballerina in the World Because of Five Cents

privy profile   |   By Bonnie He


Occupation: Prima Ballerina

Based in: San Francisco

Last Education: Saint Mary's College


A game of heads or tails changed YuanYuan Tan’s life forever.

At the age of 11, YuanYuan was scouted and invited to audition for Shanghai Dance School. Her father, an engineer, wanted YuanYuan to either follow in his footsteps or become a doctor, so he didn’t think she should go. Her mother, however, had dreamed of becoming a dancer herself when she was younger, so she secretly took her daughter to the audition.

YuanYuan passed all three rounds, and she was given the opportunity of a lifetime: to begin her dance career, starting as a professional ballet student at the Shanghai Dance School.

Faced with this life-changing decision, her parents felt it was too stressful to ask an 11-year-old to decide for herself. So they left the decision literally up in the air - by flipping a 5-cent coin.

It landed on heads.

Today, YuanYuan Tan is the world’s most recognized Asian ballerina, as the principal dancer of San Francisco Ballet, the first professional ballet company in the United States.

And though fate decided her starting route, she has worked hard tirelessly to get this far. At 15, she won the opportunity to represent China in international dance competitions. Her first competition was in Helsinki, Finland. At age 16, she competed in Paris, France and in Nagoya, Japan, earning her two gold medals and one silver medal, in addition to the Nijinsky Award.

San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director, Helgi Tomasson saw YuanYuan in Paris, and invited her to joined San Francisco Ballet in 1995 as a soloist. Less than two years later, in 1997, YuanYuan was promoted to Principal Dancer, the first Asian dancer to achieve that position at San Francisco Ballet.

She still proudly holds that title, and has recently returned to her roots, as San Francisco Ballet has begun to tour in China. She was named the Rosewood curator for Rosewood Beijing, the first China property for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. While in Beijing, YuanYuan likes visiting the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Panjiayuan Antique Market and the 798 Art District.

We at Privy think she’s the person to watch. But that’s just our two cents.


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