Holly Jean Dorger, Amy Watson and J'aime Crandall backstage at Jacob's Pillow

Christopher Duggan for Pointe

Royal Danish Ballet's American Leading Ladies: Meet the Four Principals Taking Copenhagen by Storm

While dancing excerpts of August Bournonville's Napoli this summer at the Massachusetts-based Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the artists of the Royal Danish Ballet were in perfect sync. The dancers exuded pure cheer, from their buoyant, clear footwork to the precise angle of their épaulement. This seemed fitting for a national company where most members train in the Danish style from age 7 and feed in from the school. Yet three of the principals onstage—Amy Watson, J'aime Crandall and Holly Jean Dorger—are in fact American.


The year 2008 marked a sea change for the Copenhagen-based company. Former RDB and New York City Ballet principal Nikolaj Hübbe took over as artistic director, and brought with him a more global outlook. Hübbe found that the RDB School wasn't churning out enough dancers, so he turned his search outward. Today, four of the company's six principal women are American. (Caroline Baldwin, the final member of the group, was injured and wasn't able to join her colleagues on the Pillow tour.) "They're all different, of course, but they all share a national trait," says Hübbe. "They're extremely professional, and their work ethic is very wholesome, which I've always admired so much in American dancers."Upon their move to Copenhagen, all four ballerinas quickly realized that their new lives extended beyond the theater's walls. They had to adapt to living and working in a culture with a very different value system. "Danes have something called the Jante Law, which is an unwritten and unspoken law that everyone's created equal, no matter where you come from or what title you hold," explains Watson. For American dancers who grew up in an atmosphere of fierce competition, this requires a complete change of perspective. "When I first got here I used to say that it was like being on the moon," says Crandall.

Language also created a barrier. "It's not easy to pick up, and it's not particularly pretty," adds Dorger. "The worst part is that the way it's spelled is not how you pronounce it at all." Despite any initial challenges, all four ballerinas stress the warm and welcoming feel of the company. "Everyone's proud to be in the RDB, so once you're part of it they want to invite you in and make it your family," says Baldwin. For Hübbe, the company's updated makeup has only made it better. "I love that mélange of different backgrounds and cultures, but assembled around something that they can all give themselves to," he says. "I think there's something beautiful about that."

Caroline Baldwin

Courtesy Baldwin

Copenhagen is one of the world's most cycling-friendly cities. Here, Baldwin bikes at Nyhavn, a popular old shipping harbor.

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Training: Faubourg School of Ballet in Hanover Park, Illinois

Lucky invitation: Baldwin was spotted at Youth America Grand Prix at age 17 and invited to Denmark for a couple of weeks, after which she was offered an apprenticeship. A year later, she joined the corps.

Becoming a Dane: Baldwin recently applied for Danish citizenship, which requires a series of exams in language, history, and the country's society and politics, all in Danish. "I'm married to a Dane, but I wanted to do it all on my own," she says. "I've always loved school and studying, so I've really enjoyed it."

Amy Watson

Christopher Duggan for Pointe

Watson (far left) in Bournonville's A Folk Tale pas de sept at Jacob's Pillow

Hometown: Virginia, New York, England and California

Training: School of American Ballet

Finding her way to RDB: Watson was exposed to Bournonville as a child when the company toured to California. But her first real taste came during her last workshop performance at SAB, when Hübbe staged Conservatoire. "I found the style beautiful, and much more natural to my body than Balanchine," she says. "I'm lucky because the instinct was correct, and right off the bat I've had a Cinderella-esque climb."

Favorite Bournonville roles: Teresina in Napoli and the Sylph in La Sylphide.

J'aime Crandall

Christopher Duggan for Pointe

Crandall rehearses onstage at Jacob's Pillow with Nikolaj Hübbe to her right.

Hometown: Richmond, Virginia

Training: Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC

On dancing abroad: Before joining RDB in 2008, Crandall danced at Universal Ballet in Seoul and Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. "I've always been more attracted to the European style of companies," she says. "Art is very much a part of the culture, and everyone grows up with that appreciation."

Holly Jean Dorger

Christopher Duggan for Pointe

Dorger preparing her pointe shoes for performance

Hometown: Detroit, Michigan

Training: School of American Ballet

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This is Pointe's Summer 2020 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.

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De Roos' organization, Peace Love Leotards, has collected about $2,600 of new and gently-used dancewear and $2,000 in grants and donations since formally launching in April. Dancers or studio owners can request items through a form on the organization's website.

"I knew that dancewear was really expensive and that a lot of students might not be able to do the thing that they love because it's cost-prohibitive," de Roos said. "I really wanted to create something to allow people to have the same experience of the love and joy of dance that I've been so grateful to have."

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"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

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Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

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"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

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