John Lam in Jorma Elo's Bach Cello Suites

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet Principal John Lam Opens Up About Leaving Home to Train, and Being a Dancing Dad

Who was a role model for you growing up?

Mikko Nissinen. When I was around 14, he retired from San Francisco Ballet and took over my school, Marin Ballet. He was my first male ballet teacher and role model in the dance world. Then he left to direct Alberta Ballet, and I went to Canada's National Ballet School. He later became artistic director at Boston Ballet, and when I graduated he invited me to join the company.


How did you decide to attend NBS?

Cynthia Lucas, who succeeded Mikko at Marin Ballet, said, "Listen, if you want to make it in the ballet world, you need to go to a pre-professional school." She had been a dancer and ballet mistress at National Ballet of Canada, and felt the school was a good match. It had academics, which is why my parents allowed me to go.

Lam in a light grey top and tights leaps in the air onstage with his ankles crossed and his body curved to the side.

John Lam in William Forsythe's The Second Detail

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Was it hard for your parents to let you go away to study ballet?

It wasn't a conversation about making it into a company, it was more like "You can't go because we don't want you to be gay"—and that was during my coming-out years. I came out to them later and everything is fine now. But initially it was very daunting for them, letting me go train there.

How do your parents feel about your ballet career?

My parents are refugees from Vietnam. They don't really know about ballet. They saw me dance as a child, but they still haven't seen me perform on a professional stage. I don't blame them—it's not their culture, their education, their exposure. But that helped me navigate whether ballet was something I truly wanted.

What is your greatest challenge?

Managing being a dad, being fully present for my two boys and my husband, while I'm still so committed to honing my craft on a high level. My husband is very supportive and understands there's a time line on a dance career. I'm very grateful to him and to our boys, who see Daddy dance and still come home to a home-cooked meal every night.

John Lam onstage in a dark blue tank top and shorts, in an arabesque with his standing leg bent.

John Lam in William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Buying bags and shoes. There's a brand called Fauré Le Page that you can only buy in Paris. I went there when we were on tour and got a beautiful handbag. It makes me very happy.

What do you do on your nights off?

I love to cook and host dinner. Food makes people come together; it gives a sense of community. That's important to me because my whole family is on the West Coast.

Do you have advice for pre-professional dancers?

When you're choosing a school or conservatory, the key thing is what that artistic director sees in you. You cannot bank on the name or the institution. Find people who inspire you and will help you find your own voice. After being trained at a school you have to be confident in who you are as an artist and a dancer.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

What's Ahead for Ballet Companies in the Age of COVID-19?

Let's be frank: No one knows what's ahead for the performing arts in the U.S. With COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of nearly a year of performances so far, including many Nutcrackers, ballet companies face a daunting path ahead with no roadmap for how to survive. While schools can offer classes online or in small groups, what does the future hold for companies when it's not safe to gather large audiences or corps de ballet?

"We are in for a very hard set of months," says Michael M. Kaiser, chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. "Nothing will change until there's a vaccine."

Pointe set out to find out what the new normal looks like while the virus is with us.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Sylvie Guillem and Éric Vu-An in "Mouvement, Rythme, Étude" (1985)

Sylvie Guillem and Éric Vu-An, two former leading dancers with the Paris Opéra Ballet, were both muses to Maurice Béjart. The boundary-pushing choreographer created several roles for each of them throughout their careers, including the 1985 duet "Mouvement, Rythme, Étude," when Guillem was just 20-years old and Vu-An just 21. In this excerpt from the ballet, the pair juxtapose technical brilliance and finesse with Béjart's playfully absurd post-modern movement.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Tips for Fitting into a Company Setting When You’re in the Junior Ranks

Landing a spot as a second company member or trainee is thrilling—your dream is starting to come true! While you'll still be training intensely, you'll also have opportunities to perform in company productions and take company class. But the newness of professional life can also be nerve-racking. To learn the ropes quickly, you'll need to know what will be expected of you, both in the studio and in your interactions with other dancers and staff. A few simple tips can keep you from making common missteps.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks