With Fancy Footwork, a Dancer’s Home Doubles as a Studio
With Fancy Footwork, a Dancer’s Home Doubles as a Studio
The one-bedroom co-op in Queens that Calvin Royal III shares with his partner, Jacek Mysinski, is not what you’d call expansive. Mr. Royal, who was recently elevated to principal at American Ballet Theater (the third Black dancer in A.B.T. history to achieve that rank), could surely make it from the front door to the balcony in a shade under a jeté.
But who’s complaining? Not Mr. Royal, who still feels the same quiet pleasure in the apartment — all 500 square feet — that he did when he bought it in 2014. “I was just excited to have a place that was my own,” he said. “Even if it wasn’t the largest space in the city, it was mine.”
Mr. Royal moved from the Tampa Bay, Fla., area to New York at 17, when he was offered a scholarship to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School (J.K.O.), the training program attached to A.B.T. He lived first in a Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, apartment, where he shared a bedroom with a fellow ballet student. Then, after four years, he learned that a family friend who owned a brownstone in Crown Heights was happy to take him in — and give him his own room.
“Through that process of living with her, she showed me how to manage and save my money,” Mr. Royal said. “I told her I wanted one day to own my own property, and she was like a guardian angel and organized my life and finances. After four years, she said to me, ‘Calvin, you’ve built enough savings. This is the time to buy.’”
Calvin Royal III, 31
Occupation: Principal dancer with American Ballet Theater
Watch your step: “The ability to go outside right from your apartment … and during the pandemic I have the chance to enjoy it. I do Pilates and a full barre and ballet class on the balcony. But I can’t move across the balcony the way I can move across the studio.”
A friend from J.K.O. encouraged Mr. Royal to check out Woodside, Queens, pointing out the cultural diversity, the neighborhood-y feel and the abundance of express trains that would simplify the commute to Lincoln Center, home of A.B.T.
It should be said that Mr. Royal did not leap. He approached the apartment search as he would a new role: carefully and methodically. He was also not put off by the missteps of others. “When I saw this apartment, it had horrible burgundy carpet all through it, and one wall was painted red,” he said.
Easily remedied — and there was the outdoor space, which now contains a trellis, a Japanese maple and several heavily laden tomato plants. “I always tell people that the apartment is like my treehouse, because outside of the window there’s this huge tree,” Mr. Royal said. “It’s kind of nestled there.”
While Mr. Royal lived in Crown Heights, he routinely set aside a portion of the fees from his side gigs with the Vail Dance Festival and the Ballet Sun Valley festival. “I was thinking if I ever did buy a place and it needed some work, I wanted this savings to go toward what needed to be done.”
Thus it was that Mr. Royal was able to refinish the floors and install a new kitchen, complete with granite countertops, recessed lighting, a big new sink and Shaker-style cabinets.
Mr. Mysinski, an accompanist with A.B.T. and a concert pianist, moved in with Mr. Royal in 2016, after a year of dating. He brought, among other things, an upright piano, stereo equipment and a Buddha statue that sits on the balcony and oversees Mr. Royal’s morning yoga. It was Mr. Mysinski who built the bow-front, laminate floating desk in a corner of the living room, overlooking the balcony.
“He made it before the pandemic,” Mr. Royal said. “But because of the pandemic it’s something we have actually used, rather than this thing we sat at from time to time.”
If the apartment has a decorating scheme, it could be called cactus country casual. Two throw pillows with a Southwestern print are arranged on the gray sofa from Ikea. When Mr. Royal and Mr. Mysinski visited Zion National Park in Utah a few summers back, they stumbled on a Native American art gallery and came home with two small, rectangular rugs. A trip to the Grand Canyon netted a dreamcatcher. To mark a recent anniversary, the couple’s joint present was a photo of Antelope Canyon that Mr. Mysinski took; Mr. Royal had it blown up and mounted on canvas.
“We had to postpone a vacation to the West Coast partly because of the roaring fires that are right now taking place in the region we were supposed to visit,” said the Polish-born Mr. Mysinski. “So we’re doing everything we can to create an environment that reminds us of the times we were able to go there, and this picture helps.”
But their memento gathering is all over the map. The bookcase holds a sculpture of a hand from the Rodin Museum in Paris and a bottle of sand scooped from a Florida beach during a trip to see Mr. Royal’s family. On the television stand: the keys to the city of St. Petersburg, an honor bestowed a few years ago when Mr. Royal was performing in his hometown.
In-person company classes, rehearsals and performances are mostly on hold during the pandemic. One casualty was a history-making production of “Romeo and Juliet,” starring Mr. Royal and his colleague Misty Copeland, the first Black lead A.B.T. dancers to be cast in the title roles.
But, of course, the work goes on. “Home has turned into my own personal office, my own personal studio,” Mr. Royal said. Daily, he unfurls a square of studio flooring, rolls out a newly acquired portable barre — why, he wonders, didn’t he buy one sooner? — and goes through the dancer’s rituals in the living room or on the balcony. Then he turns over the space to Mr. Mysinski, who’s got his own practicing to do.
“There may be times when I’m doing my barre and he’ll go out to the balcony or go out for a walk, and vice versa,” Mr. Royal said. “For the last six months, we’ve been balancing giving each other the room that we each need so that we don’t go crazy.”
Neither had the opportunity before to spend much time at the apartment. And they have never had so much time to spend as a couple. It’s a very nice interlude.
“We watch shows together and cook together,” said Mr. Royal, whose refrigerator is festooned with recipes of (mostly) vegetarian dishes. “Ultimately, having more space would be great, so that when it’s safe again we can have family come visit. Having more space would be ideal.”
“But,” he added, “this is the very first place I ever bought, so it will always have that special place in my heart.”