Boston Ballet Principal John Lam Shares the Challenges He’s Overcome in His 20-Year Career

December 27, 2023

My 20-year career as a professional ballet dancer has been shaped by awe-inspiring performances, formidable challenges, and personal growth, all of which have fueled my unwavering love of and commitment to this art form.

My dance journey has been inspired by countless performances and artists, each providing a unique perspective. But all roads, no matter how beautiful, are fraught with challenges, and I faced two great ones throughout my career. The first was my recovery from a torn ACL during a performance—an ordeal that challenged me physically and mentally long after my surgery and rehab. The support of fellow dancers was my beacon through uncertainty as I worked my way back to the stage. The second test came with the onset of COVID-19. Virtual classes, masked rehearsals, and an uncertain future gripped the dance world, yet my commitment remained unshaken. I took the initiative to create, connect, and share my knowledge through choreography, video projects, and unconventional collaborations, keeping myself immersed in movement in any way that I could.

Personal obstacles have also marked my dance path. Growing up in poverty, enduring bullying for being a male ballet dancer, and navigating identity complexities within the dance world presented daunting hurdles. Yet, these challenges forged my commitment to self-discovery and advocacy for my art. I continue to draw inspiration from others. Sorella Englund’s mentorship accelerated my growth. More recently, I have been moved by the magical storytelling of Johan Inger’s Carmen.

Stepping onto the stage brings me an unparalleled sense of calm. It’s where I breathe, shine through roles, and connect with the energy of an audience. Every choreographer brings a unique approach, but the stage remains where my love for dance is rekindled. In the studio, my work has evolved, especially as a father of two boys. It’s my sanctuary for wholeheartedly perfecting my craft.

In moments of exhaustion, my loving family, energetic kids, and close friends remind me of life’s joys beyond dance. Over time, my relationship with dance has deepened. I’ve embraced the transformative power of movement and its impact on others. Even on the toughest days, I find strength to face self-doubts and cheer myself on onstage. Sharing extraordinary ballets with fellow artists and acknowledging the passage of time has led me to appreciate the choices in my dance career.

Being a dancer has defined my life profoundly. It’s taught me the power of inspiring others through authentic narratives. It’s molded me into the person I am today, allowing me to overcome adversity, experience the full spectrum of emotions, and ultimately thrive. Dance has granted me the opportunity to explore, understand, and shape a rich tapestry of human experiences, for which I am eternally grateful.