On June 30, 2015, Misty Copeland made history by becoming the first African American woman to be appointed principal dancer by the American Ballet Theatre Company.
Misty didn’t start dancing until she was 13 years-old, which for ballet is considered a late start, by taking a free ballet class at a local Boys and Girls Club. However, some have titled her a ‘prodigy’ in the ballet sense because she was already winning dancing awards and gaining recognition by age 15. She then went on to accept a couple full scholarships for some intensive programs, one of which was for ABT. Among 150 dancers, Misty was one of 6 girls chosen to join ABT’s Studio Company. She then went on to be chosen as soloist for Swan Lake with the company and was promoted to principal dancer after that.
There are many things that set Misty apart from your ‘average’ ballerina. For one, her late start to ballet and her ability to quickly learn the techniques. Another is what some have said to be her ‘unusually muscular and curvy’ body (for a ballerina). Also that she is African American and a ballerina, two descriptions that don’t find themselves paired too often. In a company of 80 dancers, Misty was the only African American ballerina at ABT for the first 10 years of her career. If this was not enough, Misty Copeland has also been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine this year. Misty’s ad with Under Armour showcases her amazing dancing and has more than 8 million views on YouTube. She has danced along side Prince while he performed and accompanied a couple of his tours. She also has co-authored a children’s book, ‘Firebird’ and written a 2014 memoir, ‘Life in Motion; An Unlikely Ballerina’, which has been optioned for a movie.
Misty throws herself into every opportunity that comes her way, blurring the lines of pop-culture which can be: short lived spurts of what is the newest and hottest trends, with a classic art form such as ballet: described by Misty herself in a PBS interview; ‘(the ballet world), I don’t think is an art form that’s quick to change or to adjust and evolve’.
Misty’s next prospect is making her Broadway debut as Ivy Smith in ‘On the Town’, which includes, not only dancing but, singing as well. She hopes this new challenge will further her in her ballet career.
Her Twitter page is freckled with congratulations after the news broke about her becoming principal dancer. With tweets from Star Jones, Taye Diggs, pics of the Under Armour team delivering a truck literally FULL of flowers to her, and even tweets from Oprah!
She doesn’t let any of this go to her head however. When interviewed on CBS following the announcement of becoming principal dancer in a July 6th interview, Misty humbly stated, ‘…I’m just standing on the shoulders of so many who have set this path for me, and they may not be seen or recognized or have been given an opportunity to have a voice but I’m here representing all of those dancers…’
An interviewer then asked, ‘You know what I love about your story is, you really owned this moment. You didn’t just say I’m a ballerina who happens to be an African American. You understood the symbolism of the moment. What do you want people to see when they see you?’ to which Misty replied, ‘I wanted to set an example for what the future of dance holds. I think ABT is setting that standard now for classical ballet. You can dream big. It doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from, what your background is…that’s the example I want to set and what I want to leave behind.’ She went on to say, ‘I think this is just the start. It doesn’t mean that the work is going to end. It doesn’t mean it’s going to get easier for the next generation…that it’s going to be a walk in the park. But I think it’s going to open up those doors for people….’
She added to this thought in another interview with E! stating that ‘Barrack Obama being president of the United States doesn’t mean racism has disappeared’. She explains how she and all of us have more work to do.
‘Being a black ballerina, definitely, is everything. My life and my path as a ballerina would be completely different if I wasn’t an African American woman. It has provided more obstacles, I think, than I knew when I discovered ballet at 13 years-old but at the same time it has made me want to persevere even more and I think it has made me a stronger person because of it. There’s so many more obstacles to overcome, but I absolutely love classical ballet’.
All retrieved on July 13, 2015: