The Nutcracker and the Lawyer
The Golden Fawn

Precision, attention to detail and the strive for perfection – these are some of the things Deirdre Fu, Special Counsel in Withers’ private client and tax team, believes are common between the practice of ballet and law.

STARTING YOUNG

Following her mother’s footsteps, Fu started practicing ballet at the age of three with Jean M. Wong School of Ballet in Hong Kong. Emerging as an enthusiastic student in those early years classes, Fu was chosen to perform in various ballet shows. A fond memory is from when she was about five years old. “There were two kids chosen to be the attendants of the Jade Emperor,” in a ballet depiction of the Chinese legendary love story between the Cowherd and the Weaver Goddess which the senior students of the school performed as part of the Asian Arts festival. Fu also performed a solo variation called “The Golden Fawn” in the school’s annual performance, and was also one of the six girlfriends in the staging of “Coppelia” and “Giselle” produced by the Hong Kong Ballet Group, the latter being a hugely popular ballet performance about a peasant girl who falls for the flirtations of a deceitful and disguised nobleman.

However, as the technicalities of this demanding dance form increased, Fu realised she needed to catch up. This realisation when she was about 12 years old did not falter her love for ballet. She continued going for ballet classes after school despite a heavy load of schoolwork. For the next three to four years, until attending boarding school in the UK, Fu toiled hard to keep up with her academics at St Paul’s Co-Educational College and after school ballet lessons. Upon being instructed by her mother that she could only continue ballet lessons if her grades were not compromised, Fu worked tirelessly to stay on top of both her studies and her passion. “In ballet, the steps and movements are not very natural, they are very technically demanding,” shares Fu. “I enjoyed the challenging feeling and if you managed to do a difficult step, it felt like a big achievement.” Besides the motivation to do better, meeting her fellow ballerinas was another incentive for Fu to continue ballet lessons after school. “I am closer to my friends from ballet than my school friends,” shares Fu. “Our friendship is very precious as we all focused on a common goal and love for ballet.”

At the age of fifteen, Fu left for the UK where she began her education at Malvern Girls College. There, and subsequently at the University of Cambridge, her ballet practice winded down as the schools were not equipped enough for it so Fu explored other forms of dance such as jazz and ballroom dancing. Her experience with ballet heavily informed her stints with other dance forms. “Ballet provides a foundation for movement, for any type of movement,” explains Fu. In her view, this highly symmetrical, precise and intricate dance form goes well with working as a lawyer. “Everything [in ballet] has a format, is patterned and structured,” shares Fu. “This is also how a lot of lawyers work.”

BELIEVING IN BALLET

Today, Fu maintains her passion for ballet by attending adult ballet lessons after work. Unlike her pre-boarding school years where ballet practice was done in a much more serious manner, Fu practices it today more for enjoyment and to unwind after a long day of dealing with legal issues and drafting. In recent times, the lessons have been conducted via Zoom due to the outbreak of Covid-19, giving Fu the flexibility of attending from Withers’ conference room or its in-house gym. The firm’s well-equipped gym features ceiling to floor mirrors and even a barre - a stationary handrail that provides support for ballet dancers during various types of exercise.

At Withers Fest in 2020

While her work in private client and tax keeps her stimulated and gives her the opportunity to meet with and learn from a variety of accomplished clients, Fu considers her involvement with ballet a great way to maintain work/ life balance and to give back to the society. She currently sits as a volunteer on the board of the Hong Kong Ballet Company and the Hong Kong Ballet Group. While her own ballet performances are limited to those done for firm events, Fu works towards increasing appreciation for ballet in the city by helping with shows and governance of the boards. She has been involved in choreographing and staging an abridged version of “The Nutcracker” – an initiative that allows children to perform this iconic piece as well as raise funds for the Hong Kong Ballet Company’s outreach activities.

Fu is keen on encouraging youngsters to appreciate ballet as an art form for enjoyment rather than feel pressured to excel in it on a professional level – something she wishes Hong Kong parents would empathise with. “Ballet is not an easy dance form, no matter how hard you work, a big part of doing well in it is about genetics and how you are naturally built; 99.9% of ballet students cannot become professionals,” explains Fu. Witnessing a lot of the younger generation give up on it once they could not pursue it professionally, Fu wishes to spread the mindset of doing it as a hobby and hopes teachers can encourage their students to continue, no matter the end goal. Her own daughter who will be studying Engineering at the University of Oxford still takes ballet classes, and Fu believes that ballet training has taught her daughter perseverance and given her the resilience to deal with criticisms and failures. Unfortunately, for a lot of other parents, even if the child takes part in a variety of after-school activities, ballet is one of the first ones to be cut down once schoolwork becomes more demanding. “Ballet is not considered as important as swimming or music lessons,” shares Fu. “But there are things that ballet teaches you which other activities cannot, such as the skill to appear graceful and composed while one may be under tremendous strain; coordination, musicality and expressing individuality while trying to conform within a rigid structure” she explains. Besides practicing ballet, Fu believes watching ballet is just as important when it comes to appreciating aesthetics and beauty.

Budding Ballet Enthusiasts

For lawyers interested in learning ballet for the first time or picking it up after a gap, Fu believes adult classes are a good starting point. Also, the Royal Academy of Dance has launched an initiative called “Silver Swan classes” – a syllabus of ballet lessons designed especially for older learners, both experienced ones and first-timers. For those who are looking to stay fit and do not enjoy ball games or the gym, ballet can be a more therapeutic way to incorporate physical activity accompanied by melodic classical tunes in your day. “The most important thing is to not hurt yourself and to start gently,” Fu advises.

Besides ballet, Fu maintains a fondness for other forms of the performing arts such as singing and considers herself a lifelong learner, both in her professional and personal life. While she may participate in adult ballet competitions when she feels ready, Fu is content developing her craft as a lawyer and as a ballet student. In law, the most recent exam she has taken was the STEP (Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners) Advanced Certificate in UK Tax for International Clients three years ago, which she passed with Distinction. She also recently took a course to prepare for the qualifying exam to practice law in the Greater Bay Area, and considers herself lucky to be able to learn new things and be exposed to novel concepts and skill sets.

The Nutcracker Benefit backdrop photo with the HK Ballet creative team