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Amar Ramasar’s Journey from the Bronx to Center Stage at Lincoln Center: ‘Dance Gives Me Life’

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Episode 3 of AMERICAN DOERS, a new 12-part video series featuring original thinkers, innovators, craftspeople, risk-takers and artisans across the United States.

“Growing up in the Bronx, all the kids on my block wanted to be baseball players, basketball players, rappers — and I wanted to do ballet,” Amar Ramasar tells PEOPLE.

As a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, Ramasar, 34, says dance “gives him strength.”

But it wasn’t always easy. As a teen, he initially hid his love for ballet from his friends.

“I lied for a lot of years. It’s a tough neighborhood and everyone wants to feel manly and, of course, the jokes came. But the manliness and masculinity I felt as a dancer gave me the confidence to say it out loud,” says Ramasar, who performs the role of the Cavalier in The Nutcracker (November 25 through December 31).

Training 10 hours a day, six days a week is both physically and mentally demanding. And Ramasar says he deals with pain each and every day.

“I’m in constant chronic pain,” he admits. “But it’s a daily grind and I’ve just accepted it. There’s lots of pain involved, but the body is so resilient and can come back and deliver even when you don’t believe it.”

And after 17 years with the world-renowned company, Ramasar gladly pushes his body to its limit every single day.

“The word love is not enough to describe the feeling I have for dance,” he says. “Dance gives me life. It’s the reason I wake up in the morning, it’s the reason I laugh and cry and fight through everything. It gives me heart.”