Sitting outside a cafe in Paris, 27-year- old English National Ballet soloist Precious Adams remembers growing up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood nearly 4,000 miles away in Canton, Michigan. There was apple picking, family trips to the Henry Ford Museum to see the 1952 Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, and Christmastime visits downtown when the Joffrey Ballet performed The Nutcracker.
In addition to busy weekends, Adams recalls her parents insisting she and her sister fill their weekdays with extracurricular activities.
“I tried tennis, and I tried to learn to play the piano, but I had no hand-eye coordination, so they just didn’t stick,” she says. Instead, she loved dancing around the living room after school. “It was natural for me to respond to music. I think that was how the whole dancing thing started.” Her parents noticed, too, and quickly enrolled the then 6-year-old in creative movement classes.
Jazz and tap, every day after school, came next. And soon, dance became the most important thing in Adams’ life. By age 9, she was practicing 20 hours a week at Wixom’s Academy of Russian Classical Ballet. This rigor gave her a glimpse into life as a dancer. It also served to fuel her playful competitive streak, which came in handy when the Joffrey Ballet held local auditions for kids to star in minor roles upon The Nutcracker’s return to the Fox Theatre.
Having earned the part of a snow angel, she spotted Fabrice Calmels — one of few professional dancers of color at the time — backstage. The 6-foot-6 Joffrey Ballet lead dancer had just started his career then, but he lifted Adams onto his shoulders when her mom asked them to pose for a photo. It was a formative experience that exposed her to the possibility of ballet as a career. It made such an impression on her, in fact, that after another two years of practicing and performing locally, Adams enrolled at Canada’s National Ballet School at 11.
From there, she went on to study at the prestigious Académie Princesse Grace in Monaco and Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow. She was far from her Canton home and just a teen, but Adams says any homesickness she felt quickly faded as she remembered she was following her destiny.
A breakthrough came in 2014 when she danced in Switzerland’s Prix de Lausanne, an international competition for young dancers where they perform before the world’s top dance companies. Only about 100 dancers are invited to compete over one week, all representing the leading ballet schools.
Adams recalls that when the group of competitors danced together, she knew she needed to hone her stage presence while receiving corrections gracefully. This made her stand out to the judges, who named her one of the six prize winners and awarded her a silver medal — an honor that meant she would receive an offer letter to join a professional dance company. For Adams, that letter would come from the English National Ballet.
Adams has since left her snow angel days behind, swapping them for lead roles in Wayne Eagling’s edgy take on The Nutcracker and modeling contracts with Superdry, Gymshark, and Zenith Watches. Both outspoken and eternally poised, Adams has also used her position to push for inclusivity by challenging the standard of “flesh-toned” attire in classical ballet.
“Black dancers all over the world are embracing their skin tones,” Adams says. “Actually, now, most ballet companies in the West allow professional dancers of color to wear matching tones, in keeping with the traditional idea of enhancing the dancer’s form, which is the reason tights were pink in the first place.”
However, the climate was much different in 2014 when, encouraged by a former instructor, Adams wore brown tights while competing in the Prix de Lausanne. While it was this performance that landed her a coveted position with the English National Ballet, she opted to wait until she was in line for a promotion to revisit the look, asking the historic company directly for permission to swap traditional pinks for tones that complemented her complexion. In a groundbreaking first, they gave Adams their full support.
“I think my inner child is happy I’m living out my childhood dream,” says Adams, who is now balancing her dance career with computer science studies at the University of London. Looking back on how far she’s come, she thinks about trust. “You have to trust yourself,” she says. “You can trust that when you’re led by passion and willing to put in the time, you’re doing the right thing.”
This story is from the February 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.