Calvin Royal III Becomes The First Black Male Principal With American Ballet Theater In More Than Two Decades


October 30, 2020

A new generation of giants!

Calvin Royal III just made history, becoming the first Black male principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater (ABT) in more than two decades, Amsterdam News reports.


Royal got his start late compared to most professional dancers. His first introduction to the ballet was during a community project in his hometown entitled, “The Chocolate Nutcracker.” It wasn’t until middle school that he began to take the art form seriously, auditioning with friends for the High School of Performing Arts and winning a scholarship to the summer program at Philadelphia’s famous Rock School, studying ballet for the first time at 14-years-old.

From there, Royal performed in several dance competitions, eventually earning a scholarship to ABT’s JKO School. The pressure of dance and the responsibility it carried was a lot for Royal, but he was determined to push through and fulfill his dreams.

“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. 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,” Royal said. 


During his time at ABT, Royal has gained much notoriety, featured in prominent productions such as Von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer in “Swan Lake” and “Serenade After Plato’s Symposium,” where his poetic rhythm captured the show. Now Royal is making history, being named principal dancer by Director Kevin McKinsey, the first Black male to hold the title in over two decades, with Royal joining the ranks alongside accomplished dancers like Misty Copeland. 

Royal is not the first; that title belongs to Desmond Richardson, co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet company. It is Richardson’s paved road that Royal is now walking on, and after more than two decades, a new male principal dancer is long overdue. 

While the pandemic has shifted ABT’s season, Royal is still perfecting his craft, practicing daily and preparing for his eventual performance with Copeland in “Romeo and Juliet.” He hopes he can learn as much as possible during this downtime to train him even more – for the stage and life.


“Unfortunately, Misty and I didn’t even have the opportunity to start rehearsals…prior to the season. I think just having that process of learning the steps, learning the musicality because the music compels you to make decisions, the music gives you so much freedom of how you feel and express in certain scenes. Then after you’ve learned the steps, you find yourself in the role…That process of learning Romeo is, in many ways, a direct reflection of my journey of my life growing up in this company and finding what it is that I want to say as an artist and becoming this man of action and this leader. Yes, that’s what this whole process is like for me,” Royal said. 

Royal pays homage to many iconic ballet dancers who paved the way for him, including Arthur Mitchell, Mel Tomlinson, Ronald Perry, John Jones, Alvin Ailey, and Judith Jamison. He hopes that his journey can push the needle even further and open the door for more dancers of color in the future. 

“It is important for me to show that it’s possible to be here and that there should be more Calvin’s and more Misty’s, more dancers of color in these organizations and institutions because their stories should be told too. There have been so many conversations about Black dancers in classical art forms, and to those who ask why, I say why not,” said Royal.


You are art in motion! Congratulations, Calvin!

Photo Courtesy of LA Times

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