Calvin Royal III
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Calvin Royal III
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Calvin Royal IlI is acutely aware of the responsibility he holds as a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the world's leading classical ballet companies. "The physicality required to be a ballet dancer is staggering, especially when you're performing 64 shows in 8 weeks," he says. For Calvin, the spirit of progress embodied in the latest instalment of the iconic Keep Walking campaign from Johnnie Walker is enormously resonant. Like the brand, he too wants to continue striding forward leaving footprints of himself and others worth following.


Calvin is particularly committed to improving access to the ballet world because his own journey to the top has been far from typical. In 2017, he became only the third black dancer to be appointed a principal in the ABT's 84-year history. He is also the first black male to hold this title in more than two decades. Growing up in Tampa, Florida, Calvin displayed a passion for dance from a young age but didn't begin ballet lessons until he was 14 - an uncommonly late start in a world where some dancers begin their training as toddlers. When he was 17, he won a scholarship to ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, but moving to New York City to continue his training proved to be a steep learning curve.


"I was surrounded by ballet dancers who had been training their whole lives. It hit me then how much it would take to catch up," he recalls. "Every time I looked around the room I saw no real diversity." Calvin readily admits that he often felt "isolated”. Opening up to his peers was tricky, because they were also his competitors. "You knew everyone there was striving to win a place in the company, which only a few achieved," he says.


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With perceptions, inspiration, and education in mind, Calvin off stage is currently setting up his own charitable foundation that will work to create new pathways for underrepresented groups to enter and succeed in the dance world. Calvin's goal is making classical dance more accessible. "This art form is so important to me and I’m committed to making sure it’s open to everyone."


Calvin's talent and hard work helped him to defy the odds, but he's most proud of making it without sacrificing his fundamental sense of self. "There were times when I felt that being openly gay would hinder me, or being black would hinder me, but my drive and determination carried me through," he says.


He is especially proud of Touché, a new ballet centered on male love that he performed in 2020. "It was my first time working on a ballet that was so closely tied to my own life experience," he points out that Touché wasn't just a story about a gay couple, or even a gay interracial couple, but one firmly rooted in our collective humanity. "It resonated not only with those who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but with everyone. That's when I realised we were changing lives and perceptions of love."


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In the US, Johnnie Walker has launched ‘First Strides’; an initiative that celebrates, inspires and enables people and organisations taking bold strides to move culture forward for all, investing in cultural trailblazers through grants, visibility, mentorship and empowerment programming.