By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Aug. 7 (Yonhap) -- Choi Young-gyu, 29, principal dancer with the Dutch National Ballet, remembers the day when he first experienced ballet at the age of eight.
He joined a ballet class as the only boy in the small coastal town of Suncheon, some 300 kilometers south of Seoul, where he went with his mother.
"I hated it. I pretended to sleep on the first day of my lesson," Choi said, laughing, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday. "On the second day, however, I came to love ballet, moving rhythmically to music. Since then, I've never asked myself why I should do this. l automatically thought this is my way."
After fully committing to doing ballet, he went full throttle. He graduated from Sunhwa Arts School in Seoul and then went to the Tanz Akademie Zurich in Switzerland when he was 15. The South Korean teenage ballerino's versatility and great potential helped him emerge as an up-and-coming artist, bringing him a couple of awards in Europe and America, including the first prize in the Youth America Grand Prix in New York in 2007.
In 2011, he joined the Dutch National Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet, or the group of dancers who are not soloists. Five years later, he became the first Asian male dancer to rise to the rank of the company's principal. Currently, there are only eight male principal dancers, including Choi, at the Dutch company.
Choi, who is well known for clean classical techniques of jumps and turns, said although he isn't exceptional in one area, his strong point is that his strive to learn.
"I don't think I have special talents or I'm good at something in ballet," he said. "But I just delve into things that I want to know or do better. I don't exercise a lot but spend a lot of time completing the movements for my roles."
He's dealt with some hardship during his career. Around the time he entered the Dutch ballet, he suffered from a critical knee injury, which forced him to take a respite for months for the first time.
"I had been struggling with knee ligament inflammation for two years around 2010-2012. At that time, I had to put ice bags on both knees to get some sleep after a rehearsal," he said. "The company had me take a rest for three months. At that time, I even thought of quitting."
He recalled the first day he returned from his injury and put on ballet shoes. He fell in love with ballet again and started to relearn the basics that he had neglected for years. He would warm up for about two hours before scheduled practice sessions.
"Now, no pains at all. It's like the misfortune turned into fortune," he said. "I think I always try to be ready and disciplined, so that I can overcome hard times at the eleventh hour."
Choi is now in South Korea to participate in a dance show, titled "Le Premier Gala" at Seongnam Art Center in Seongnam, south of Seoul, this coming weekend. He will perform two pieces of duet dances each from "La Esmeralda" and "Swan Lake" with ballerina Park Sae-eun, who is premier danseur with the Paris Opera Ballet.
"I've performed a large repertoire with the Dutch National Ballet for nearly 10 years. I love all of them," he said. "Among them, dancing Albrecht in 'Giselle' is my favorite. I want to show this lovely, romantic ballet to South Korean fans in full acts."