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IAm Helen Li

Blogs Helen Li, CAE Jan 31, 2024

I always knew I loved dancing, but I never gave it any serious thought until my first dance class during my secondment to KPMG London. On a Saturday, I saw a flyer featuring Argentine tango classes with no dancing partner required — a perfect option for a rainy afternoon in Covent Garden.

Although I didn’t really like the trial class, the teacher convinced me to purchase a three-month course. I ended up going back every Saturday and soon fell in love with Argentine tango. I’ve danced in a popular place in London called the Dome, school halls, clubs, and sports centers across London. Then, I danced at festivals in Lisbon, Sitges in Spain, and even Amsterdam, taking lessons from world-famous Argentine tango masters. I absolutely love it. Dancing is one the best things that ever happened to me.

I wanted to continue to learn tango, so I explored the possibility of working in Buenos Aires when my London secondment came to an end. I asked a senior partner to write me a recommendation letter to KPMG Spain, hoping that they would accept me to work in Madrid. Unfortunately, I was rejected because I don’t speak Spanish.  

I returned to my home office KPMG Hong Kong, and it was fantastic for my career. However, to my greatest disappointment, there were no good Argentine tango teachers based in Hong Kong, and the local tango community was too small to support regular practices. With my workload increasing, I stopped dancing and worked crazy hours. I will say, my hard work paid off — I got promoted every one to two years and eventually to a partner.   

Working as a consulting partner, I struggled with my work-life balance, especially after children entered the picture. Eventually, I decided to take a two-year career break. Without work, there was more time to pursue personal interests, and I was totally mesmerized by a Foxtrot dance show in Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Stadium — it was captivating to watch the dancers “fly” across the floor.

I went back to the dance floor to learn ballroom and Latin dance from the world’s top teachers based in Hong Kong; I loved it and made amazing progress. Despite dancing for hours each day, I sometimes still missed my work. So, my career break ended much sooner than originally planned. I rejoined the workforce after six months to work as a senior audit executive.

With a day job, most of my leisure time was shuffled around dancing lessons and practices. My hard work paid off. In my first pro-am dancing competition in Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Stadium, I won all the dances I entered. 

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Dancing Rumba at pro-am competition

Being highly motivated, I set a higher goal to compete in the Blackpool Dance Festival, the world’s biggest and foremost annual festival of dance. It was hardcore training. Every free time slot was squeezed for dancing lessons and/or practices. I felt more tired, and it took a little bit longer for my body to recover after each practice. One day, I couldn’t walk down the stairs without holding the handrails. After consultations with various doctors including sports specialist, I realized that scar tissue had been building up in my muscles and tendons for years due to over-training, insufficient warm-ups before and lack of stretching after dance practice.  

Despite a quick recovery from the acute arthritis, I was forced to make the difficult decision to quit competitive dancing. I knew I would stop dancing one day, but I didn’t expect it to end so abruptly. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to it.  

I would never have expected that quitting dance would be one of the best things that ever happened to me. My passion for dancing had filled all my personal time. Without dancing, I could explore more — hiking with family, swimming, Tai Chi, spending time with friends, and volunteering.  

I think life is like a dance — you may take a step forward, then a step back, you may move gracefully to make a turn, or struggle just to keep balance. If you’re tangled up, you just tango on.

Helen Li, CAE

Helen Li is the group chief auditor at the Bank of East Asia in Hong Kong, China.