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Gay Vietnamese-American Ballet Dancer John Lam Out to Inspire Others

John Lam by Karolina Kuras
Photography by Karolina Kuras

John Lam, who appears in a new short film and a documentary, wants to motivate young people to pursue their goals despite cultural taboos.

John Lam, the first Vietnamese-American to be a principal dancer with a national ballet company and a gay man, is out to inspire aspiring dancers.

Lam, who dances with the Boston Ballet, premiered his first short film, Movement in Structure, this year, and he makes an appearance in the award-winning documentary Danseur. The doc focuses on men and boys pursuing ballet, the challenges and prejudices they face in doing so, and why they love dancing in spite of it all. "I am happy to be a part of a conversation that gives a lens for younger generations to see that they are not alone [in] choosing a profession that may have societal presumptions of what they are. ... I hope it gives everyone the opportunity to know it's possible to dance and create a beautiful family and be married to whom you love," Lam, who is married with two children, says of the documentary.


In Vietnamese culture, Lam explains, both the existence of LGBTQ community and the reality of gay ballet dancers are very taboo subjects, and often buried under a "don't ask, don't tell" mentality. "I've only met two Vietnamese ballet dancers in the USA and Europe in my 18 professional years of dancing," he tells The Advocate. "I'm hoping that my role gives hope to young aspiring Vietnamese and/or any child that wishes to dance but their culture frowns upon them doing so. I hope my role gives them strength and persistence in striving for what they love to do and essentially what defines who they are."

Lam's identity as a gay man is important to him and his art. He looks to approach each performance with honesty and explore the "real way in how I would react and or present myself within the character[s] as ... a gay man." Playing with gender identity in choreography is one example of this, although Lam specifies that he doesn't look to incorporate his queer identity into dance, but that he views himself as "essentially a well-groom[ed] tool with all the colors of the rainbow ... whatever I'm working on, I try to utilize all shades of colors to create what art is to me."


Asked what inspired his short film, Movement in Structure, Lam speaks of his ongoing pursuit to "capture the beauty within ... movement." He elaborates, "I am addicted to movement ... [it] challenges me to find choreography, cinematography, space, sound, textiles, lighting, editing, and intent to prescribe [movement] into a finite time frame." His film, a collaboration with director Shaun Clarke, centers on a large, open room and uses simple cinematography, narrowing the focal point to where it should be: Lam's strong, delicate choreography as he flows along gently with the music.

Lam's lifelong goal is "to continue to inspire, be inspired and allow my voice in the love of dance/movement to live into whatever direction my life takes me when it's time to say goodbye to the stage and [move] on to the next chapter in my life."

You can view Movement in Structure below.

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