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In many ways Russell was shielded from the struggles that so many other budding gay kids encounter, thanks to strong support from his mother and a large extended family, including well over a dozen cousins who were his close friends. ''I've had a few experiences where I felt…these people are obviously just not liking me because I'm gay or because I'm black, or a situation like that,'' he says. ''But for the most part I've been pretty fortunate to have been surrounded by people that have been supportive of me no matter what. My family took less than a day to at least say, we don't understand but you're our family and we love you.''
Russell trained at the Baltimore Academy of Ballet before getting his bachelor's in dance from Connecticut College. He danced with various dance companies in New York in the years before he discovered Pilobolus. Though his long-term goal is to earn a graduate degree and become a full-fledged dance teacher, Russell intends to stick with Pilobolus for at least three more years.
''I'll assess my body around six years [with the company],'' says the 29-year-old, laughing, ''and if I need a walker, I'll gracefully bow out.''
Pilobolus performs Friday, May 11, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, May 12, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sidney Harman Hall, Harman Center for the Arts, 610 F St. NW. Tickets are $35 to $55. Call 202-547-1122 or visit shakespearetheatre.org.