Strictly no dancing as teachers ordered to pay back £4.2m

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The Independent Online

Ballroom dancers live for passion and this tale of sequins, salsa and rumba in Hong Kong's glitziest venues is no different. And it gives an insight into the lifestyles of the filthy rich in the former British colony.

Mimi Monica Wong, a prominent banker and ballroom dancing fanatic, won a court case yesterday against her dance instructors, who were ordered to return £4.2m for lessons she never took. As head of Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank's private banking business in Asia, and a shipping heiress, Ms Wong was a scion of the territory's banking community. But her real love was ballroom dancing, and her weakness for salsa and rumba gradually became an obsession.

The 61-year-old widow was "looking for the last bit of glory in life" and agreed to pay £8.1m to her dance teachers, the Italian-born Mirko Saccani and his British wife, Gaynor Fairweather, for unlimited private lessons and competitions from 2004-12.

She paid the first £4.2m upfront but soon things started to go sour. Mr Saccani admitted in a High Court hearing to calling the banker a "lazy cow" and to pushing her too hard. Ms Wong claimed the insults drove her to a breakdown.

Her dance teachers countersued for the rest of the money outstanding. Ms Fairweather was world Latin dance champion 14 times with her former partner Donnie Burns, and both received MBEs for their services to dancing.

For the first two years Ms Wong paid Ms Fairweather just £68 an hour, but her hobby became an obsession and when Mr Saccani entered the scene he put tuition on a big-money footing. Ms Wong saw her relationship with the dancing supremos as "an affair", while Ms Fairweather called the pupil "my little project, my love and my heart".

The lessons seemed to be working. Ms Wong began to reap the rewards on the "pro-am" circuit, where amateur dancers strut their stuff with professional partners. She came first in the over-50 age group at the Los Angeles Embassy competition in September 2002, winning the "Top Gold Lady" title and did well in other overseas contests.

But everything began to fall apart at Hong Kong's Li Hua restaurant on 25 August 2004. Mirko Saccani wanted to show the packed ballroom that he could compete with Donnie Burns - Ms Fairweather's former dance partner - who was dancing in front of the crowd at the event with his student. It did not work out as planned, and Mr Saccani was furious, telling Wong to "move her arse" and being extremely aggressive, although he insisted this was "motivational language".

Afterwards, he said that the deal was off, but when Ms Wong asked for her money back he refused.

In a written judgment, Judge Gerard Muttrie ruled that Ms Wong should be repaid damages plus interest, saying that he found her version of events to be much more believable.

"It is common enough for any professional person to act, in private life, in a way which one would not expect him to act professionally. What is clear in this case is that Ms Wong was affected very much by her obsession," the judge wrote.

Ms Wong will take a short leave of absence but will soon be back to advising Hong Kong's rich. And the dancing goes on, although she pays her new instructor only £11,000 a month.

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