Boston ballet dancer marking milestone and breaking barriers

BOSTON — A principal dancer with Boston Ballet has a message. The arts are for everyone. That message isn’t just an idea, but rather, his reality.

This October, John Lam is marking 20 years as a dancer with Boston Ballet. It’s a milestone for any professional dancer but carries extra meaning for Lam. He is the first Vietnamese-American male principal dancer in a major ballet company, and the journey to center stage wasn’t always straightforward.

John Lam’s introduction to ballet happened at age four. He tells Boston 25 that he came home from school with paperwork for a dance scholarship program for inner-city kids near his hometown of San Rafael, California. His parents never had a dance background, but signed the forms.

“My parents thought, this is just a phase he’s going to go through,” Lam said, but as a teenager, dance took Lam to Canada, and eventually to Boston, where he’s been taking the stage ever since. It’s an accomplishment of personal significance, and also cultural significance.

“I think it’s a cultural issue where dance isn’t really accepted in Vietnam. I mean we celebrate dance, but not in the way we do here in North America, where you can have a profession in dance,” Lam explained.

Lam says his parents have seen videos of his dancing, but have not come to the Opera House to watch him perform in person. In the city he now calls home, Lam instead has his husband and two sons, ages eight and 10, in the audience.

While his passion for dance is strong, Lam is also a recent college graduate. He’s on track to get his master’s degree this winter, just months after he performs in “The Nutcracker” as Drosselmeyer and the titular character, the Nutcracker.

He is also taking on another project.

“I’m writing a memoir on growing up, being an inner city child, you know I’ve realized looking back that there’s been so many hurdles I’ve faced without even knowing that I had to face the hurdles. And I think that’s an important story to share with so many kids who look like me or come from a cultural background like me who are told no or told you can’t or told how can you, or that’s not how we do it. And I’m trying to empower and inspire other kids, families, parents, to know that it is possible.”

Lam is currently performing in the Vertical Road piece in Boston Ballet’s Fall Experience, which runs through this weekend.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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