At 21 years old, fresh out of college in Southern California, Ching Ching Wong moved to Portland with a job as a professional dancer and a whole lot of unknown in front of her.
In a couple weeks, Wong will leave Portland to make her next moves in her career, having reached national-level status as a member of Northwest Dance Project. She's earned a Princess Grace Award, annually given to top professional dancers, and she's known as one of the "25 To Watch" for 2017 by Dance Magazine — not to mention countless performances and tours with Northwest Dance Project, headed by artistic director Sarah Slipper and executive director Scott Lewis.
What an experience it has been in Portland for Wong, 29.
"Sarah Slipper offered me a contract (in 2010), and I was floored. I couldn't believe that I was offered this amazing opportunity to work for a company.
"I was a baby. I was scared and lost. I'm in this new city, everything was green and my eyes were big and I was overwhelmed."
Portland audiences get to see her perform one more time in Northwest Dance Project's Fall Performances, Oct. 19-21 at Lincoln Performance Hall.
"I want to slowly stop time and take it in," she says. "I feel as if I've grown into myself as a person and a dancer with Northwest Dance Project.
"It's bittersweet. I have been with Northwest Dance Project for seven seasons, since 2010. It's been my home, they've been family, it's been a dream."
But opportunities await, and they are aplenty. She has 10 months of activity planned out.
Immediately, she'll stay in Portland and perform with violinist and musician Joe Kye in Portland on Oct. 27 — and then later in Los Angeles and Asia. After the Portland performance with Kye, she'll be driving her van, nicknamed "Gimpy," out of town for a teaching tour and performances in Boise, Salt Lake City, Richmond, Virginia, and Los Angeles. On Christmas Day, she'll fly to Switzerland.
She'll be an assistant for Ihsan Rustem, resident choreographer at NWDP, with the restaging of his "Yidam" show in Bern, Switzerland, in January.
And she has created a program for global outreach in Nepal, working with the Kopila Valley School and Children's Home and director Maggie Doyne, CNN's 2015 Hero of the Year. It's a program backed by the BlinkNow
"I'm creating dance, art and music program for them," says Wong, who'll work along with Kye and others. "And, I'm going to do a fundraising program for the home and school."
Oh, and she'll also be going to Manila, the Philippines, where she was born, as well as Singapore, Guam and Israel for teaching, and Osaka and Tokyo, Japan, and Shanghai, China, for performing.
"It's wild," she says.
The Northwest Dance Project has featured four Princess Grace Award winners in recent years — Wong, Andrea Parson, Franco Nieto and Viktor Usov. Only Parson and Nieto will remain. While Wong will move on in her dance career, Usov chose another route, pursuing acupuncture and naturopathy.
"I'm not letting go or moving on from dancing, I'm letting dance pull me along and see where it takes me," Wong says.
Setting up the logistics of the next 10 months has been challenging, although it's taken only a couple months of planning.
"It doesn't really seem real that the journey is here," she says. "It's one of those unexplainable feelings you get in your gut. This has been home. I have felt so much love and support. This last show for me is incredibly special, it feels like a gift for me."
At the recent NWDP gala, the company put on a roast for Wong, which she found interesting. She didn't know what a roast was, and people told intimate details and secrets about her. "I've redefined what love means," she muses.
Of her many memories with Northwest Dance Project, Wong remembers one of the latest ventures: visiting Jacob's Pillow Dance in Becket, Massachusetts, and the oldest summer dance festival in the United States.
"That history is in the air and it seeps into your body and into the entire company, it's infectious," she says. "That performance and that week, it can't be recreated. I knew it would be my last tour with the company."
She'll miss her fellow dancers.
"I'm going to wholeheartedly miss everyone in the company," Wong says. "I have had some of the most incredible moments of my life with them — not even big moments, but all those small moments, all the moments behind the scenes filled with laughter and a whole gamut of emotions."
Northwest Dance Project's performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 19-21, at Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave. More: www.nwdanceproject.org.