“When I was a child I thought I will be a surgeon or a doctor when I will grow up. Usually ballet dancers start in an early age, but I started ballet only at the age of 14 by coincidence…”
Fay Stombler Pansringarm dances her life since her days in NY and along the last 30 years in Thailand. She pirouettes between cultures, languages, family life, business and stage. But also a ballerina needs two to Tango, and with her husband Pu she shares the claps. This is her story.
A quick look at Fay – and you would never guess she’s turning 60 these days. She grew up in NY, where she was a professional dancer and ballerina, and 30 years ago decided to come to Thailand with her Thai husband.
She earned good reputation in the city by her dance studio Rising Star which ‘raised’ many dancers over the years and gave Bangkok’s kids and teens their first taste of ballet.
Every year the studio stages a full length ballet production with professional dancers and students of all ages. I caught Fay for an interview in the middle of preparations for 2018 performance La Fille Mal Gardee.
Fay and I got to know each other when my daughter had her “Ballerina” phase in the age of 7-8, and although my daughter moved on to other hobbies since (she’s 13 now…) – Fay and I had always kept in touch. In the waiting room of the studio I also got to know her husband Pu, who himself is ‘a rising star’.
Fay, why dance? “When I was a child I thought I will be a surgeon or a doctor when I will grow up. Usually ballet dancers start in an early age, but I started ballet only at the age of 14 by coincidence. I was actually a gymnast. One day I went with a friend who wanted to check the summer programme of the Harkness Ballet Company. She didn’t get their scholarship.
But I did. And this is how I started with ballet. Later on when I grew up – I had offered to study at Johns Hopkins University, but I chose to go to ballet school instead. No regrets. I then danced in different dance companies in NY, and even started a punk-rock dance company back in the 80s. I just love it.”
What does a New Yorker do in Thailand? “I married a Thai and ended up here”, Fay smiles. “My Thai husband Pu and I met in NY – we met as a waitress and a bus boy working in a restaurant in Broadway (we were both students at that time and had to earn our living; he studied graphic design).
After getting married we decided to come to Thailand with the thought of trying an import-export business together; after years in the dance area, I thought I will start a new professional chapter in Thailand. But they were crying out here in Bangkok for dance and ballet teachers, so I found myself keep doing what I love – teaching ballet and choreographing.
At the first years I worked at dance studios in Bangkok, my husband and myself also ran direct sales activity on the side, and we both did the production and choreography for the annual Thailand beauty pageants. 9 years later we opened our own dance studio Rising Star, which is celebrating its 21st year now.”
You arrived 30 years ago to Thailand. Bangkok and Thailand were different back then. What are the main differences you can see? “I arrived when there were rice fields and buffalos in Bangna Trad and Samut Prakan.
Days back then were very different, especially for foreigners. You couldn’t get here everything as you do today. The only grocery shop where you could get some Western stuff was Villa Market – all expats shopped there; and S&P was the closest to international restaurant you could get.
Back then you were lucky to have land phone line, it was hard to keep in touch with my family and friends from the US. We sent letters. Bangkok was not so cosmopolitan as it is today. Today everything has changed for the better!
You can get anything here now: Western food, English books, communication made easy. There is more style, there is Thai style. It is going in a good direction!” You opened your own dance studio 21 years ago in Bangkok. From being a dancer and teacher who works for others – you became a businesswoman.
Tell me about this change, why did you decide to go into business? “I am surprised I didn’t do it long ago. My husband left Thailand after High School, and we came to Thailand when he was in his 30s. He didn’t have a big family back then who could support us in our first days in Thailand. We were really on our own, building our future.
Artists are not trained to think ‘business’ and I did it to have my own control on the artistic aspect. It’s a kind of profession that revolve on skills, teaching and experience – you need to have it all, so business wise it wasn’t a risk for me at all.” Would you say then that the dance studio is the project of your life ? “To be accurate – dance is the project of my life. Since the age of 14 I see dance as a whole language I speak, and there are things that can be only expressed inmovement.
Moreover, I always saw dance as a good way to hold the body – it holds the stick. It’s also drama, art, expression, and healthy for your body. I totally understand why only small percentage will go to the profession of dance. But even if you don’t turn it into a professional career, others who learn dance can gain interest, and get other things meaningful out of it. That’s why I teach.
“That’s why I teach. I have students who write to me 15 years after how it was meaningful to their life, and this makes me feel good”
I have students who write to me 15 years after how it was meaningful to their life, and this makes me feel good.” Fay’s husband – Pu – is also known to the Thai cinema audience as Vithaya Pansringarm. For many years you were the one on stage, under the spotlight, while your husband supported the dance studio business behind the scenes. You make a good team, running this as a family business.
Few years ago he became a star when he started his late acting career in movies, from Hollywood to Thai cinema, picking awards as Best Actor or other nominations in film festivals worldwide. How is it to have two performers in one family? And how did it affect the family business you both run?
“We really know the routine of our dance studio business, we know what to expect and when; Since Pu’s acting schedule is unexpected, we plan ahead with our family business, to be able to deal with whatever comes. We’ve learn that the busier you get – the more efficient you get.
We are both artists and entertainers – it’s about the quality of the work and about rewarding your soul. He is an artist first, and two artists have 2 goals behind their egos. We both able to praise each other and enjoy the claps.” Cultures differences – challenges and advantages?
“As my Thai husband is also an artist, what connected us initially were the similarities we had in common, and culture was mainly how you feel obligated to bend the rules. After 30 years in Thailand – do I feel Thai or American? I choose the best from each culture. It’s nice to have the ability to choose and not obliged to one.
It’s like one more page from the menu to choose from.” You started your parenthood experience in a late age (in compare to many) – in your forties – tell us about your parenthood experience. “I started late as we were too busy. We started with nothing, we supported the family, and we wanted to establish ourselves first before having children.
When we wanted a child it didn’t go easily. I had 7 times IVF, and when I finally got pregnant – I danced until giving birth. I gave birth on the age of 42. It was a change – I became a mother combined with being a wife, teacher, and a businesswoman. My son was with us in the studio since he was a baby.
In preschool days he was playing there with kids in all ages waiting for their sibling students, this way he always had companions. We never had a regular schedule with my son, we were freestyle. years ago. When I first met the grandmother – she took care, in her own premises, of around 100 monkeys and gibbons who were rescued. It was fascinating and we’ve realised she needs some help with that, so we got involved and it grew into a foundation.
The environment became the biggest concern in the world. Since I was little – my mum made recycled bags for food, and was in the organic farming movement 50 years before it became fashionable. So I always had environmental awareness and was passionate about wildlife.”
What or who inspires you? “Several of my teachers. And my mother. She was a ‘free spirit’, she allowed all of us What are you proud of? “Being able to take all the incredible training I got and pass it on the next generation – that’s what I’m proud of. As there were teachers who inspired me – I can now be an inspiration for others.”
You are on your 60s now. The body is not responding anymore like in your 20s ballerina days. For how long you will keep up with teaching/dancing?
“Getting older as a teacher you understand the body more and more, and you learn how to use the body correctly and safely. It is nice to know that in The Netherlands they created a retired people dance company, with older dancers who have so much to offer but can’t dance with younger dancers.
If I can still do that in ten years from now – I will be thrilled. My dad is now 90 and does everything, driving etc. I would appreciate being the same. If an age was only just a number…”
Do you take time off? What do you do then? How do you pamper yourself? “In the last two years I go to Hua Hin almost every weekend, whenever I can, and this is my treat. I decided that since I don’t plan to quit my job until the age of 85, I will retire now every weekend. I feel I’ve earned it.”
Share with us your wisdom for life? “I kept changing schools as a child, and never followed a conventional path. I left home just before 16, supported myself, studied (and NY was much tougher place back then but vibrant). I became a mother at the age of 42, which is not the typical age to start motherhood, and raised my son mostly in the dance studio.
I believe in letting things be as they suppose to be, it can be whatever you want, not according to expectations, or cultural ‘what has to be’, you have to choose the way that works for you.“ Your top tip to inspire other expats women in a foreign city?
“There is so much here, so many different things. Since you might not be in the city for long – just dig in it. Instead of trying to do the same as you did at home – just try new things here. Living here is not being exposed to Thai style only but to different cultures and communities.
You can give here a lot to your children by allowing them to see there are many options in the world; this is the advantage of raising international kids, after all.” And last thing – tell us about the upcoming production you work on these days.
“At the first weekend of June we’ll present at M Theatre the full length ballet La Fille Mal Gardee (The Badly Guarded Girl) which is one of the first ballets about “real people” rather than kings, queens, or gods. First performed in Bordeaux, France in 1789, it is a simple and familiar love story which takes place in the French countryside.
“Since I was little – my mum made recycled bags for food, and was in the organic farming movement 50 years before it became fashionable. So I always had environmental awareness and was passionate about wildlife.”
The cast of performers include 5 professional dancers, some well known to the Thai audience and some trained and worked abroad in the most prestigious ballet academies. Also dancing are almost 100 students of Rising Star Dance Studio, ages 4 to adult, from over 25 nationalities. I hope Expat Life readers will come to enjoy our show.”
La Fille Mal Gardee
2/3 June 2018, 2:30pm**
M Theatre, Petchaburi Rd.
Tickets* & Reservations: 900B
at 081 908 3931
081 553 0656
*Partial proceeds will benefit the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand.
**Ballet performance run two acts, totalling approximately 110 minutes, plus a 20 minute intermission.