When Patricia Zhou was 12 years old, she got to take class at the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy (BDA). At the time, Patricia had been dancing at a local studio called Dancin’ Feet in her hometown of Canton, MI, for about five years and she was thinking about pursuing ballet more seriously. So when her family arrived in China for their annual summer trip, her mom sent her to take class at BDA. She wasn’t sold on Patricia’s dancing aspirations and thought the experience would be a wakeup call, showing Patricia the rigorous life of a professional ballerina. “But it just made me want to dance more,” the 16-year-old says.
Not long after that trip, Patricia placed second in the contemporary dance portion of the Youth America Grand Prix regional competition in Chicago. That same year, she was accepted at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., and moved to the capital city to follow her dream.
With her petite and delicate frame, elegant long lines and powerful leaps, Patti (as she’s known to friends) clearly has her fair share of raw talent. But since arriving at the Kirov three years ago, she’s worked hard to improve both her technique and her ballet knowledge. “When I got to the Kirov, I had just learned that The Sleeping Beauty was a ballet as well as a fairy tale,” she says.
Patti attends academic classes for about five hours each weekday morning in subjects including art history, anatomy and French; after lunch, she spends another four or five hours in the studio taking ballet classes and rehearsing. While some of Patti’s classmates continue to practice on their own in the evenings, usually Patti, who’s a straight-A student, is doing homework. But sometimes she makes her way back to the studio. “Seeing so much talent motivates me to work harder,” she says.
In NYC, Patti showed the same tireless dedication in Finis Jhung’s ballet class at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. In an open class of students with mixed abilities, she might have taken it easy. Instead, she gave 100 percent, executing pliés and tendus with such precision that Jhung moved her to a barre at the front of the class.
But Patti’s more than a prima-in-the-making. When she’s not in class, she loves to explore D.C., especially the Georgetown neighborhood, which has plenty of places for her to indulge her shopping bug. (She kept trying to squeeze in shopping stops while in NYC!) And this bubbly girl is curious in the dance studio, too. Patti enjoys the challenge of trying other genres (before her Kirov days, she trained in tap, acro and lyrical). In fact, she says earnestly, “I’ve decided that if I’m not going to be a ballerina, I want to be a Latin dancer!”
Maybe she’ll eventually end up swiveling her hips on the ballroom floor, but for now, Patti’s sights are set on a professional ballet career. In June, she competed at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS. She graduates from the Kirov next spring and then hopes to join a company. Patti would love to dance with Houston Ballet or go abroad. She says, “My dream companies in Europe are The Royal Ballet or Stuttgart Ballet."
Dance idols: Drew Jacoby and Marianela Nuñez
Dance crush: “Rubinald Pronk is fierce. I love watching him!”
Dance mentors: “My dance teachers from home, George Hurley and Miss June Smith. They saw my talent before anyone else and helped me
become the dancer I am today.”
3 words that describe your dance style: Passionate, fun, controlled
3 words that describe you: Dramatic, random, friendly
Favorite dance step: “Grand jetés, because it feels so nice to fly through the air.”
Favorite food: Frozen yogurt from Tangy Sweet in D.C.
When no one’s looking I: “...sing!”
Favorite dance movie: Dirty Dancing
Dream dance job: A principal with The Royal Ballet
What People Are Saying about Patricia’s Dancing
Calen Kurka: “She’s got an amazing body and a wonderful idea of her strengths and weaknesses. She’s got strong technique, so she gets to fill in the blanks. She could pay more attention to the details of instruction. No matter what your specialty is, try to take each class for what it’s worth.”
Sheila Barker: “She has such beautiful lines and extends through her legs, feet and arms. I would like her to trust her ability much more when dancing out of her comfort zone. Go for it!”
Finis Jhung: “Patricia is a striking dancer with lots of talent. She moves across the floor with grace and ease and has effortlessly beautiful lines and lovely jumps. Her turns will look better when she learns to keep her hips placed more forward so her pelvis doesn’t tilt and pull her off her supporting foot.”
Margaret Fuhrer, DS assistant editor: “Patricia is a beautifully expressive dancer. Every movement is filled with breath and life. And talk about extension! How can such a tiny girl have such ridiculously long legs?”
Photo of Patricia Zhou by Nathan Sayers.