Catching up: Gabe Stone Shayer

‘My presence and existence in the classical ballet world is a form of protest’

Gabe Shayer
Philadelphian Gabe Stone Shayer is the first and only African American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. | Image: @Mr.Hollis.King

Originally from Philadelphia, Gabe Stone Shayer is the first and only African American to graduate from the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and now is a Soloist with American Ballet Theatre in New York City.

Currently, he is on a mission to share his perspective as a black male dancer, redefine masculinity, and change the narrative around black men. While in COVID-19 lockdown, he was very interested in learning more about his grandmother and their Ghanian heritage.

In doing so, he started to seek information about Ghana and its people. After doing some research and finding a school that teaches ballet in Ghana, Gabe reached out to House of Fame Academy to see how he could share his talents and create a space for the students to express themselves and seek their full potential.

Recently, he has partnered with House of Fame Academy to teach students ballet via Zoom (IG: @balletghana), partnered with Vivies Dance Factory to teach dance instructors and students via Zoom (IG: Viviesdance_factory), and created a scholarship with ABT for students to train.

According to his American Ballet Theatre bio, Shayer was born in Philadelphia in 1993. He began his formal training at 11 with Alexei Boltov and Natalia Cherov in Philadelphia. At 13, he was offered the lead role in the world premiere of a modern ballet, “Darfur,” as a guest principal with the Rebecca Davis Dance Company, which subsequently toured the United States.

At the 2009 Youth America Grand Prix International Finals, Shayer, at 15, placed in the top 12 for his pas de deux in the Senior Category. The same year, he attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Program in Moscow and won first place for Best Male Dancer.

He continued his studies at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow under the tutelage of Ilya Kuznetsov. Shayer is the first African-American male to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in its nearly 250-year history.

In 2016, Shayer received the Clive Barnes Award for Dance. 

PW recently caught up with Shayer to talk about his career and initiatives.

Talk about your early interest in dance. Did you see yourself making it as far as you have?

I was dancing as far back as I can remember. When I became conscious of the construct of employment, I knew that it was something I would do forever. In the case of my recent promotion to Soloist, I knew I would never stop working until I succeeded, and there’s still so much more to accomplish!

Gabe Stone Shayer is on a mission to redefine masculinity and change the narrative around Black men. | Image: @Mr.Hollis.King

What have been your favorite roles while with American Ballet Theatre, and why were they your favorites?

I would say my favorite role has been Mercutio in “Romeo & Juliet.” He is an integral pillar in the narrative and the choreography called for precision, artistry and emotional depth above all else. Also, I loved dancing the lead role in our version of the “Rite of Spring” called “AfteRite.” It too called for extreme character analysis!

The COVID-19 lockdown gave you the opportunity to learn more about your grandmother and your Ghanian heritage. That has led to a number of projects, including working with schools in Ghana that teaches ballet. Talk a little about how all of this came together and your involvement with the school.

During quarantine, I became accustomed to teaching online and over Zoom. Shortly after, I realized that this presented a unique opportunity where I could extend myself further than I normally would have time for and to places outside of New York City. I found two schools in Ghana on Instagram and started following what they were doing. After receiving a comment on a post from one of the schools, I decided to reach out. 

From there, I started connecting with the schools over Zoom. This gave me the opportunity to meet, teach and lecture the students and teachers. Now, I’m very excited to announce that I was able to facilitate a scholarship for both of the schools’ directors to be certified in American Ballet Theatre’s national teacher training curriculum.

There is so much negativity that surrounds things that are considered “traditionally” black, let alone the stereotypes that reflect upon the whole community in a way that literally threatens our lives. I personally want to use my platform to dissociate blackness with criminality and negativity, as well as redefine what it means to be masculine.

– African American Gabe Stone Shayer

You’ve said you’re on a mission to share your perspective as a black male dancer, redefine masculinity and change the narrative around black men. Can you expand on that? What are some of the things you’re looking to achieve?

Yes, of course! There is so much negativity that surrounds things that are considered “traditionally” Black, let alone the stereotypes that reflect upon the whole community in a way that literally threatens our lives. I personally want to use my platform to dissociate Blackness with criminality and negativity, as well as redefine what it means to be masculine.

The title of Soloist ballet dancer is already synonymous with grace, however the stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a black male have made it nearly impossible for people like me to succeed. My presence and existence in the classical ballet world is a form of protest – it says “I’m a black male and I’m graceful, kind, and elegant,” words not often used to describe blackness. I hope that as I gain more opportunities to speak out that I can influence people not like me to look at our collective blackness through a lens that neutralizes their prejudices. I hope that I can inspire the black community to always exercise their excellence!

What does the future look like for you? What are your plans once the pandemic clears? 

Honestly, I have too many plans and ideas for my own good. I want to keep creating innovative and beautiful art, maybe film as well. When the pandemic clears, depending on what time of year, I will get on the closest stage to dance around then hop on a plane to see some of my closest friends who live in Europe.

  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.