“When I heard my name called out on promotion day, it honestly felt like the skies opened up. Whether I was being featured or not over the years, I pushed myself and strived to be the best version of myself on stage and off. So, to finally make it to principal with ABT, it was a dream come true!”
Those were the words of Calvin Royal III in an interview in September. That month, he became the first Black male principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater (ABT) in more than two decades. Desmond Richardson was the ABT’s first Black male principal dancer, who went on to dance with Complexions Contemporary Ballet.
Royal, following his promotion in September, joins Misty Copeland in the roster of ABT’s principal dancers. This comes a year after Royal and Copeland became the first Black duo in ABT to dance the lead roles in ballet, by performing Ratmansky’s restaging of Harlequinade.
Studying ballet for the first time at 14 years old, Royal was first introduced to the dance performance during a community project in his hometown but it was in middle school that he paid more attention to it. There, he auditioned with friends for the High School of Performing Arts and won a scholarship to the summer program at Philadelphia’s famous Rock School where he studied ballet.
Royal then performed in scores of dance competitions before earning a scholarship to ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in September 2006, a pre-professional ballet training program for students aged 12-17. It was tough from the start, he said.
“It was challenging on so many levels, not just being the only Black kid in my class but being away from home for the first time…I felt this sense of, ‘Ok, I’m an adult now at 17.’ That’s a lot to kind of settle in with,” Royals said. “Then, despite the longing for a sense of community, knowing that I came here because I have something that got me this scholarship to be here. I always knew that because I didn’t see people who looked like me at the top, I wanted to get there so I could help to bridge the gap and open that door.”