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Where HIV meets pliés: How Joshua Royal is using ballet to tell his HIV story

This article is developed and funded by Gilead Sciences.

By Alastair James

Pictures: Provided

Joshua Royal is a gay man living with HIV, whose drive and ambition have helped him regain his self-love and become a professionally trained ballet dancer. Joshua is sharing his experiences to inspire others living with HIV and challenge outdated perceptions of the virus.

A life rooted in a love of dance

Throughout his life, Joshua has been on an incredible journey of self-discovery, rooted in a love of dance from an early age.

His fascination with ballet began when he was in school. He was determined to pursue this passion despite his parents telling him he should “be doing times tables rather than dancing on tables”.

At the age of 11, he left his all-boys school to join the Royal Ballet School where he flourished, travelling across continents and with different companies performing alongside stars such as Darcey Bussell and Carlos Acosta just as he dreamed of as a little boy.

Having trained with the Royal Academy of Dance Joshua now teaches ballet to adults. 

A strive for perfection pays a heavy price on mental health

As Joshua grew up and his career took off, it brought a life of parties, lovers, and clubbing where fun and exhilaration gave way to unhappiness and disconnection.

As someone who was building a career around physical perfection, Joshua soon gained a sense that the people around him were only interested in his body, and that true connections were hard to create.

This, combined with intense scrutiny on his physical fitness as a dancer, and the many late nights, soon took their toll on Joshua’s mental health and exacerbated his bipolar diagnosis.

Following a difficult period in his life where he was diagnosed as being HIV+ in 2015, Joshua made the decision to leave his life as a ballet dancer behind.

A refocus on self-love and respect

After taking time away from his career Joshua found the time to reconnect with himself and was able to focus on the things that really mattered.

After struggling to come to terms with his HIV status, Joshua found a new community of people that valued him for himself and accepted every part of him. Through their support, he found a new sense of self-love and respect for his body, which in turn positively impacted his mind.

This connection with a group that understood him allowed Joshua to find space in his life again for ballet. Realising that his passions lay in sharing his love of dance he found his true calling of teaching ballet and inspiring people to find the same fulfillment that has guided him through his life.

Breaking free of labels and old perceptions of HIV

Having returned to his career in ballet Joshua now focuses on his own physical and mental wellbeing which includes living his life without labels, not being gay or straight, HIV positive or negative, but just himself.

Among his passions, Joshua wants to help drive more awareness about the realities of HIV in the UK today and the important messages such as U=U – which means if you are living with HIV and on medication with an undetectable viral load, you can’t pass on the virus.

Today Joshua is an ambassador for Find Your Four, a new campaign developed and funded by Gilead Sciences, where he wants to share his own experiences of living with HIV and inspire people to think about the elements of their broader health and wellbeing that are important to be able to live well.

Joshua’s love of ballet and his passion to share positive reflections on living with HIV has given him his own focus and drive in life; he now wants to help others in his community to do the same.  

Joshua Royal is a professionally trained ballet dancer and ambassador of Find Your Four, a campaign developed and funded by Gilead Sciences in collaboration with the HIV community, which encourages people living with HIV to think about four things they want to focus on to live well with HIV, so they can be ready to talk to their doctor, nurse, or support group about why they matter.

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November 2021