51.5074° N, 0.1278° W
‘You can do whatever you want in London, and it's celebrated.’
Gems in this
Photo>>>Tom J Johnson
Creative life in cities as disparate as Beijing, Washington DC, Berlin, and London has made Patricia Zhou well acquainted with new chapters in new places.
After having won multiple international ballet competitions including the Prix de Lausanne, Patricia was offered a role at the Royal Ballet in London at the age of 17. One of the first times in her life that she was forced to stay put was during the Covid lockdowns; it was in this time her love of teaching and directing films blossomed, albeit digitally. Now, Patricia is back in the London creative community and enjoying all of the delights that the city has to offer. We chat with the talented creative about finding purpose within dance, why she loves the creative expression of Londoners, and her top places to eat and drink in the city.
On a window or aisle seat
A window seat. I can literally sleep anywhere, so I’ll go to sleep before it's even taken off and wake up when it's landing. It's pretty crazy. So I like it because I’m settled in for the whole flight. The worst is when I'm in the middle, because then I just look like a dead corpse with my head hanging down.
On living transiently during childhood and beyond
My parents are Chinese immigrants, and they moved to Canada where I was born and lived until age four. After that they sent my sister and I to Beijing for a year to live with my grandparents. I was in kindergarten there just living my best life — I was glad I had that year of living in China, although I think it was harder for my sister academically. But then when I moved to Michigan at five, where I mainly grew up, I couldn’t speak any English. So I spent my first five years of school there in English as a Second Language classes. At 14 I moved to Washington DC to go to a ballet boarding school where I stayed for four years; then I moved to London for a year; then Berlin for five years; then to Los Angeles for three; and now London, where I’ve been since 2020.
On finding purpose and drive through dance
Growing up in a Chinese household, dancing is not really a thing that you do; it’s just a pastime. The more I did it though, the more I loved it. One summer, my parents sent me to the Beijing Dance Academy thinking their strict way of teaching and disciplining would scare me off, but it did the opposite. After that I moved to Washington DC to go to a really intense and prestigious Russian ballet school, and it solidified from there. Because I grew up in a really small town in Michigan, which was not very diverse, I felt like I never really fit in there. I was always very quirky and different. At ballet school, it was like I finally found a place I fit in, because everyone was quirky and different there.
On using movement to process emotions like grief
I generally tend to gravitate towards music and movement that is either nostalgic or a little sad, because it’s emotional and expressive. I'm lucky because dance is really healing in that way for me, coming from an Asian culture where we weren't really taught to express ourselves in how we feel. So sometimes I don't realize that I'm sad or stressed, or I have these things inside. But then when I get to dance, it really comes out, and it feels very therapeutic. In the same way, filmmaking has been like therapy to me, too.
On why you love travel
It takes you out of your everyday. When you live in a big city, it can be like having tunnel vision, where you're just trying to get things done. But when you go somewhere else, it's this breath of fresh air. You can look at things in a different light, which I find really refreshing and very good for mental health, because you're forced to be out of your normal habits.
‘I love that all of the dancers here aren't just one thing: we all exist in these in-between spaces doing lots of things. It feels really fresh all the time.’
On the not-so daunting aspect of moving to London
I was really lucky because I knew my boyfriend when I moved here and he is also creative. All of his friends are very creative and just super lovely. So I had this little family when I moved here. There were so many opportunities here; every time I visited I would be making films and meeting really interesting people. I love that all of the dancers here aren't just one thing: we all exist in these in-between spaces doing lots of things. So I really enjoy that because it feels really fresh all the time.
On how your relationship with the city
It's a love-hate relationship for sure. But it's my base. Because I travel a lot, when I get back here, I can finally relax. But as soon as I'm here for over three months, the hectic energy of the city makes you a little on edge and you want to go somewhere new!
On the creative expression of Londoners
I love LA, but you know, everyone's in athletic wear all the time and they’ve just come from a sound bath. Here in London, it’s more playful, like you can actually dress up and wear something kind of crazy. Not everyone's going to love it, but someone's gonna be like, ‘Wow, you look amazing.’ I just really enjoy that you can do whatever you want in London, and it's celebrated.
On favorite food spots in London
It’s so hard to decide in a city as big as London so you need to go with subthemes. I love this place for lunch called De Beauvoir Deli; it’s seriously nice food. They used to just have a little deli that you could walk in and buy sandwiches and pastries. But because it was so popular, they opened up another spot across the street. And you can just go for great breakfasts and it's just super cute, neighborhood vibes. I love Italian, and especially places where you can share lots of little small plates. Primeur is exactly that: a really nice vibe. It’s run by the same people behind Westerns Laundry and Jolene Bakery, which are also so great. Primeur is my favorite though because it's not super busy, and you can just perch on the bar and have some really nice wines. They have little plates of pasta and they're the perfect size, so you can have quite a few to try. If someone comes to visit I almost always take them there.
On the most eclectic cocktail bar in London
I think A Bar with Shapes for a Name was actually voted in the top 25 bars in the world recently. They do really good drinks, and it has a cute Bauhaus vibe inside.
On the best cinnamon bun in the city
I usually go after I take a dance class, because I'm always starving. I'll go to Fabrique, just off the Seven Dials in Covent Garden — they have these really good cardamom buns, which are not too sweet, but there's still that delicious sugar crust on top. They have all these different buns and it's really cozy, if you're walking around Central and you're looking for a place to sit back and relax.
On where to get beautiful flowers
The iconic flower market used to be in Covent Garden but it moved down to Battersea. You have to wake up early to get there; it starts at 4am. You walk in and there's all these amazing different kinds of flowers and plants, and you can get them for way cheaper than if you went anywhere else. I just love it.
‘Even though London can be stressful, it's nice to feel like you're part of something bigger than yourself.’
On one song that reminds you of London
‘Cold Heart’ by Elton John and Dua Lipa. I listened to it an insane amount of times when it first came out, so I always think of the city when I hear it. Also, I went to see Max Richter with his orchestra, and they played ‘The Four Seasons’ recomposed from the Antonio Vivaldi version. It was amazing. After that, I listened to it so many times walking around, which is hilarious because it’s the most dramatic music ever, but I love it. So wandering the city with a violin concerto in my ears is definitely my thing. Music definitely informs your experience!
On describing London in one word
Moving around London constantly feels like we’re all cogs in a machine; everyone's going everywhere and doing everything. But there's something quite comforting about that — even though it can be stressful, it's nice to feel like you're part of something bigger than yourself.