Sonia Nazzer has shimmied her way around the world but now calls Hong Kong home. She tells Expat Parent why.
I’ve always had an impulsive streak. When I was 21 I saw a news feature on TV about street kids in Colombia, sold my car and moved to Bogota. Instead of going to university, I decided to join a dance tour of New Zealand.
Hong Kong was a little less spontaneous in that I had actually visited it first – I spent time here on holiday during Chinese New Year in 2005. At that time I was a newly-wed of 25 with a six month old baby in tow. On returning to New Zealand, myself and my husband decided we wanted to go back to Hong Kong. We studied for 18 months, training in cross-cultural programmes, and finally landed back at Chek Lap Kok in late 2006 with a two-year old toddler and a seven-month old baby.
We were swept up by the possibilities of this city and the vibrant culture and energy that had first entranced us on our initial visit.
These days, our family has grown to include five-year-old Christmas, three-year-old Finn, and the toddler and baby, Caleb and Elijah, are now 12 and 11. We also have our handsome rescue mutt Pickles, and Oreo and Fluffy our rescue rabbits.
After many run-ins with the “fun police”, we now live in Sai Keng village, Sai Kung. I’m comfortable in a village house – I value space and room for the kids to be creative above the convenience of a residence. When I lived in Bogota I was held up at gunpoint and faced some pretty intense safety situations. For me, Hong Kong is a little bubble of security.
Dancing, singing and acting have been my life. I started tap lessons at five and then ballet. I remember loving every second of my first dance competition. I had a tendency to wink at the judges, which didn’t go down too well in ballet circles. Fortunately I discovered jazz dance and musicals which suited my flamboyant showgirl tendencies. At 13 I was recruited by a modelling agency and received great training in makeup and catwalk. At 16 I gained the highest grades in New Zealand in my grade 8 speech and drama exams. I completed my professional dance qualification at 17 and joined a Christian Performing Arts School. It was unusual in that it gave equal attention to character development and nurturing a conscious artist ethic as it did to dance, and I developed a passion for working with underprivileged communities. This led me to Bogota where I taught first and second grade to Colombian children and discovered my passion for teaching.
I returned to New Zealand and taught under Corinne Yee, founder and choreographer of Asia Pacific Dance Association, in a prestigious dance academy. Yee has been my mentor for the past fifteen years and with her encouragement I opened the Academy of Jazz in 2007 in Ma On Shan. I’m also honoured to be the first person to bring the JazzAddict, Urban Ignition Hip Hop and Lucidity Contemporary Dance syllabi to Hong Kong.
I love dance because it requires as much mental focus as it does physical, and it gives back to you in euphoric joy when you finally master a move or routine. Technically, dance results in improved muscle tone and balance and a calmness and focus – it takes full brain concentration – while developing body awareness and pride. The huge grins on my students’ faces when they land the turn they’ve been working on bring me to tears. Dance is a language as well as an artform. Everyone can dance.
Setting up a business in Hong Kong is easy – if you have the right ideas, the experience and the resilience. However, I do think more focus is needed to support small-to-medium sized businesses. I have been creatively copied more times than I can count, photos from my own classes used in advertising by other studios, and costumes and shows replicated. So I’d say while opening a business here is easy, maintaining it is a different story.
As an entrepreneur, Hong Kong has a bit of a “wild west” feel about it. It’s a city where I feel I can fail, and get back up again and give things another go. Hong Kong is as diverse as it is populated and has a unique energy. There are amazing groups working with refugees right alongside multi-billionaire executives. I love the hikes and and the beaches and nature right on our doorstep, and I also love that I can still go shopping at 9pm for last-minute school items my kids only remembered to tell me about at 8pm!
My favourite place in Hong Kong is Lamma. As a family we prefer bonfires on the beach with friends to fancy restaurants. I love seeing my kids barefoot, climbing rocks and running free. I also love my home town Sai Kung, its great cafes and locally run restaurants.
Free time is spent making artwork with the kids, we’re a family of creatives so I just let them just go for it. I’d love to go home to New Zealand a bit more often, but with a big family it becomes more of a challenge.
Academy of Jazz is having a blessed year of the rooster. We have new classes just started in Sai Kung, where we’re also excited to be opening cheerleading and Theatre Kidz classes, as well as the regular ballet, jazz and hip hop. I’m also working on a stage show for December about a brother and sister who spend a wifi-free weekend at Granny’s house – expect some crazy costumes and funky routines as classic games like Twister and Cluedo come to life on stage.
Nazzer is founder of Academy of Jazz and runs classes in Mei Foo, Ma On Shan and Sai Kung. If you’d like to join a class, contact Academy of Jazz at