How Three Dancer-Artist Duos Navigate Marriage and Career

May 15, 2023

Many dancers marry within the industry, finding common ground through similar triumphs and struggles, and sometimes even sharing the stage together. But there’s also something special about building a life with someone whose career is one step removed: having a spouse who’s dance adjacent, who works within the arts, yet is not fully immersed in professional dance culture. Dance Magazine spoke with three couples who’ve dedicated their lives to different art forms—and each other.

Calvin Royal III & Jacek Mysinski

A member of American Ballet Theatre since 2010 and a principal dancer since 2020, Calvin Royal III is known for elegant, princely performances. His husband, Jacek Mysinski, a Juilliard-trained musician and native of Warsaw, Poland, is a company pianist for ABT.

How They Met

When ABT was seeking new pianists 10 years ago, Mysinski’s audition included playing during a rehearsal for Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. Afterwards, Royal approached the piano and introduced himself. “The sun shone on me when he walked up,” Mysinski remembers. When ABT hired Mysinski the following year, the two reconnected and soon began dating. They tied the knot in 2021.

Though their careers are distinct, the work is interwoven and has deepened their bond. “The fact that we get to perform together and share our gifts, not just with the world but with each other—it’s as though there is some sort of invisible thread between us,” says Royal. “His music is the pulse and inspiration behind everything I do onstage.” Mysinski is equally as inspired by Royal. “Even when we don’t perform together, I can close my eyes and imagine Calvin’s movement or phrasing and correspond with it,” he says.

Supporting Each Other

Royal and Mysinski each have a front-row seat to the demands of their spouse’s career. “I see him work through all the varied types of rep that he has to have under his belt—when my day ends, he has to go home and prepare for the next day of rehearsals,” Royal says. “He sees me deal with the physicality, the exhaustion and the countless hours of pushing myself.” Royal notes that Mysinski has at times helped him get through a challenging rehearsal: “When we come back from a holiday, I can ask him to slow down the tempo a little while I try to get back into it.”

three people on stage holding hands for curtain call
Christine Shevchenko, Royal and Mysinski at the BAAND Together Dance Festival, Lincoln Center. Photo by Alex DiMattia, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Wendy Whelan & David Michalek

A longtime principal dancer with New York City Ballet, Wendy Whelan was named the company’s associate artistic director in 2019. Her husband, David Michalek, started as a photographer working in fashion, entertainment and celebrity portraits in Los Angeles before branching into live performance and film. “I am what I call a project-ician,” says Michalek.

How They Met

When Michalek was hired as the photographer for a Lear’s magazine story on the 1993 film version of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, he prepped by purchasing ballet music to use during the photo shoot. “I’d never met any sort of elite ballet dancer, and I was excited about the opportunity,” he says.

Whelan was taken aback when she entered the studio. “I saw the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life,” she says. When she went to change into costume, music from Firebird began to play. “She came out with her Nutcracker costume on, put her hands on her hips, tilted her head and asked me why we were listening to this music,” says Michalek, who told her it was ballet music and that he thought it might get her in the right mood. Whelan’s response? “I know what music this is, and I don’t know what kind of mood you want me in, but I don’t want to hear this. I hear it all day at work.” The two shared a laugh, and by the end of the shoot Whelan’s sense of humor had charmed him. “She was kind and generous,” he says. Eventually the two exchanged numbers, became friends, fell in love and built a life together in New York City.

Sharing Perspectives

Despite having distinct artistic pursuits, Whelan and Michalek have deepened their knowledge about each other’s work over the years. “We come from different ways of thinking, but they inform each other,” says Whelan. “I love his intelligent and unique perspective.” Learning about a different art form has benefited both partners. “Giving David feedback has really shaped my eye,” says Whelan. “He has helped me look deeper and see shapes, lines and energy.”

Whelan and Michalek also support each other when faced with professional criticism. “When I was dancing and would get a negative review in the paper or news, David would jump to my aid by sharing what he saw in my performance, and what he knew was there,” Whelan says. “He would reinforce the point that it was just one opinion, and that I couldn’t forget who I really am as an artist.” To bolster her confidence, Michalek would send Whelan music to listen to before going onstage. “He has always offered me support through other art forms,” she says.

Because they are both deeply committed to their work, striking balance can be a challenge. “At times we have to find gracious ways of saying we are involved with something right now,” says Michalek, “and can’t be as receptive­ to the other’s work as we’d like.” Whelan describes it in terms of a love affair. “David’s girlfriend is art and my boyfriend is dance,” she says. “Thankfully, we are both understanding and don’t take offense.”

Finding Inspiration

Their artistic pursuits overlapped in one particularly spectacular project: Michalek’s 2007 Slow Dancing, an oversized slow-motion video that’s a unique portrait of Whelan. “The essence of dance is movement,” he says. “I wanted to bring some element of time into the portrait, without making a film in any traditional sense. I imagined an intersection of still photography and film and arrived at this very slow-moving­ image.” After creating Whelan’s film/portrait, Michalek expanded the work to include dancers from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. “It became­ a celebration of the human spirit in dance,” he says. “But as many things do for me, it stemmed from my desire to work with Wendy.”

a female with blonde hair and a man with glasses smiling for a photo
Wendy Whelan and David Michalek. Photo by Clint Spaulding, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

Al Blackstone & Abraham Lule

Emmy-award winning choreographer Al Blackstone charms audiences with his playful, emotive storytelling on “So You Think You Can Dance” and in his own original dance narratives, like Freddie Falls in Love. His husband, Abraham Lule, was raised by his dance teacher mother in Mexico and initially had his own studio, Top Dance, where he taught for 10 years while studying graphic design. They currently reside in New York City, where Lule’s design firm focuses on packaging and branding for wine and spirits and the hospitality industry. Using their unique talents and shared passion for dance, the two created MOMEN NYC, which includes an intensive dance experience for adults.

How They Met

Blackstone and Lule, who were married this past December, first connected via a dating app eight years ago. “It’s a funny story,” Blackstone says. “I didn’t know Abraham had dance experience when I met him, and when he told me, I ghosted him.” Because Blackstone’s parents owned a dance studio and his sister and all of his friends were dancers, he decided he wanted more balance in his life. Two years later, after following Lule’s design work on Instagram, he realized his mistake and messaged Lule to reconnect.

two males wearing button down shirts, hugging and smiling at the camera
Al Blackstone (left) and Abraham Lule. Photo by Ida Saki, Courtesy Blackstone and Lule.

Supporting Creativity

Blackstone credits his spouse with being the perfect sounding board for ideas, as well as a safe space to process feelings about dance. “He is someone I can vent to, who really gets it,” he says. When Blackstone choreographs a new work, Lule contributes the design elements. “I appreciate having someone so visual with such amazing taste in my corner,” says Blackstone. “He’s broadened not only my choreography but the costumes, the lighting, the branding and more.”
Lule relies on Blackstone’s eye for feedback on his work, as well. “Albert is often the only person I can bounce ideas off, or show my presentations to,” he says. “He is kind of like my editor in chief.”

Finding Balance

The two are similarly devoted to demanding careers, and Blackstone’s work involves frequent travel. “One year I was gone 150 days,” he says. “It’s difficult to be with someone who has a career like that. Sometimes I worried that our relationship would suffer because of it.”

Although they have invested effort into finding work–life balance, Blackstone and Lule appreciate each other’s dedication. “I used to be so invested in my work that I didn’t want to date anyone,” says Lule. “When I did date, I wanted to find someone as focused on their career as I was. Albert was certainly qualified for that.”

In their downtime, they are fueled by their love of the arts. “We see movies together, we talk about books—even our apartment is a creative space to live,” Blackstone says. “To share a life with someone who also requires inspiration, ideas and expression is amazing.”

a graphic with four squares, each with a word and a dancer
Lule’s graphic design for Blackstone’s Freddie Falls in Love. Courtesy Lule.