Exclusive interview: Eric Underwood – meet ballet dancer and ex-soloist at the Royal Ballet, model & actor up close and personal

He is outspoken indeed! Get to know Eric Underwood, as he chats to Claudia Peifer in this frank & honest interview.

Find out how he became the man he is today, via classical ballet and modern dance, straight into modelling, acting, becoming a brand collaborator and now a mentor.

Having started at the American School of Ballet, he danced his way through the ranks to become one of the few black soloists at the Royal Ballet in London – a role he kept for 11years. His overall repertoire includes roles in iconic ballets such as Swanlake (Von Rothbart), La Bayadère (High Brahmin), Manon (Gaoler), Anastasia (Rasputin) and The Nutcracker, amongst many others, as well as creating his own roles in Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse’ and Wayne McGregor’s ‘Chroma’.

A master of precision and expression, he is a joy to watch performing on stage, and even more inspirational to listen to! He’s danced in the biggest houses across the world, and still has been able to reinvent himself to find new ways to follow his vision in the pursuit of personal fulfilment.

These days, he features in international advertising campaigns, starred in the film ‘Cats’, is seen at the GQ Awards…and yet has massive fun mentoring and teaching school children to dance and to physically express themselves. His attitude to life is nothing short of impressive, so watch this interview and be inspired…

Eric Underwood

Eric Underwood is an American, British ballet dancer. He was one of very few black dancers at The Royal Ballet, during his time there as a soloist between 2006 and 2017. Find out what he is all about in his chat to Claudia Peifer: the self-belief that was instilled in him at a very young age, what drives him to strive and to fulfil his ambitions, and how he has reinvented himself! Read this to get the full picture about his background and thejourney to dancing success!

Eric Underwood’s Journey to the Royal Ballet

Underwood was raised in Maryland, USA. It was not until he was in his teens that he started formal training as a dancer. His mother was eager to send him to a visual and performing arts school in the hopes his horizons would be broadened, but as he entered his audition, stage fright got the better of him. On his exit from the audition, Underwood caught sight of a ballet class in training and asked the teacher if he could try too. He went on to train at the school as a ballet student, being one of very few boys in the class. One year on and he received a scholarship for the School of American Ballet, in the big apple – no less! Here he was the only African American student in his class and graduated there in 2000. From this point he went on to join the Dance Theatre of Harlem and then the American Ballet Theatre in 2003, with himself and Misty Copeland as the only dancers of colour. By 2006 he had caught the attention of the prestigious Royal Ballet in London, when spotted touring in the capital.

The Royal Ballet

Joining as a First Artist, and subsequently promoted to soloist in 2008, Eric Underwood has become a part of The Royal Ballet’s renowned history. Even more so being one of very few black dancers to join the company. The Royal Ballet in London is world famous and a prestigious classical ballet company of the highest calibre. Based at the grand Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, it is the largest of the five major ballet companies in the UK, with a huge reputation, both nationally and internationally. Founded in 1931, it became the resident of the Royal Opera House in 1946 and granted royal charter just ten years later. Since then, it has established itself as the pinnacle of many a ballerina’s career.

In the current day, The Royal Ballet is noted for its artistic and creative values, providing its dancers with world class facilities. The Royal Ballet began its repertoire with the production of The Sleeping Beauty. Since then the repertoire has grown incredibly to include both classic and modern pieces including, CHROMA (which Eric Underwood danced a role he created), Swan Lake, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Anastasia, Romeo and Juliet, and La fille mal gardée.

Famous Male Ballet Dancers

Many a male ballet dancer has used the platform of their dance company to develop their own unique style and to further their career. Some of them have gone on to form their own dance companies, such as Carlos Acosta, a former principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, who also used to dance with the American Ballet Theatre, and is currently the director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Adam Cooper, who shot to stardom in the principal role of Matthew Bourne’s all male Swanlake, is a successful actor, dancer, choreographer and theatre director.

Eric Underwood has also made a move into acting, and working as a successful model is yet another string to his bow. However, mentoring fresh talent is a natural extension to his talents, which he is very excited about for the future.
Other great male dancers in ballet and modern dance:

  • Vaslav Nijinsky
  • Rudolf Nureyev
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov
  • Sergei Polunin
  • Federico Bonelli – Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet
  • Matthew Ball –Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet
  • Alexander Campbell – Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet
  • Cesar Corrales – Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet


Culture Tripping: Venice Biennale 2024 until 24 November

Curtain Call: ‘Message in a Bottle’ dance show, London’s Peacock Theatre

Fashion Photography Exhibition: Tim Walker’s ‘Wonderful Things’ at the V&A


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