Introducing Naazir Muhammad, Houston Ballet’s Rising Star

August 10, 2022

When Houston Ballet demi soloist Naazir Muhammad soared across the airspace in Balanchine’s “Diamonds” last season, the roar of the crowd nearly overwhelmed Tchai­kovsky’s lush score. His pristine technique and sheer stage charisma took the performance-starved audience by surprise. “It was hard to concentrate because they were screaming throughout my entire variation,” recalls Muhammad, who’s enjoyed a steady stream of lead roles since joining the company in 2017, after just one year in Houston Ballet II.

Company: Houston Ballet

Age: 24

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Training: Brooklyn Ballet School, American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Houston Ballet Academy, Houston Ballet II

Mentorship from Misty: Muhammad met Misty Copeland while rehearsing The Nutcracker when he was in Level 5 at the JKO School. “She took me under her wing and told me what to expect, how to deal with directors, ballet masters and choreographers,” he says. “I still ask her for advice today.”

Front and center: Filling in for an injured dancer in artistic director Stanton Welch’s Sons de L’Âme pas de deux with principal Karina González in 2018 proved a turning point. “Right before we went on, I was so nervous that I was shaking,” he says. “Karina squeezed my hand, telling me that there was a reason I was standing right next to her.”

What the director is saying: “Naazir will undoubtedly be cast in many big roles next season, and I suspect some contemporary work, as well. He has such maturity onstage,” says Welch. “Physically, he has everything: elevation, turns and jumps. He’s also always watching other dancers and learning; you never find him on his phone.”

Being a twin: He remains close with his twin, Shaakir, who dances with Norwegian National Ballet. “We talk every day,” he says.

Coming back: Muhammad was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a rare muscle syndrome, in June 2021. After a week in the hospital and two months of rehab, he was onstage again, performing as the Nutcracker Prince. “I lost 25 pounds and could barely lift anything. It took a lot of work to get back.”

Classical ballet and beyond: “I want to dance the male lead role in every major three-act ballet,” he says of his dream roles. But he also wants to perform works by William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián, and incorporate hip hop into ballet. “That’s what I grew up doing. I want to mix the cultures,” says Muhammad, who takes open hip-hop classes.

Downtime: Muhammad enjoys watching sports, playing golf and reading medical blogs. “I have always been drawn to science, especially neuroscience and cardiology. It makes great bedtime reading.”

His mission: To become a principal dancer. “I come from a rough neighborhood. A lot of people don’t make it out. I am grateful that ballet took me out of that,” says Muhammad. “I am a Black male heterosexual leading dancer. I want to show people that you can come from a neighborhood like mine and be successful.”