[07/01/2015] Congratulations to Misty Copeland who was just named principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre! With today’s announcement, Copeland became the first African-American ballerina to achieve that status in the 75-year history of the ABT, one of the world’s premier classical ballet companies. Her promotion came six days after the 32-year-old dancer made her New York debut in the role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake.” The emotional performance ended with Copeland being greeted onstage by trailblazing black ballerinas of earlier generations.
While Copeland has now reached the pinnacle of the ballet world, her rise to such heights was far from traditional. Her family was living out of a hotel room when she took her first ballet class; she and her five siblings struggled for space to sleep on the floor. She also had a comparatively late start in ballet and was 13 when she took her first lesson at her local Boys & Girls Club. At the time, she was anxious and saw herself as undersized and gangly: “I was never, you know, the popular one, the pretty one,” she says. “These big long feet and skinny legs and skinny limbs were all these things that I thought were negative things in how we view beauty in our society, and then when I was introduced to the ballet world, all of those qualities were beauty for a ballerina.”
Copeland’s talent, however, was obvious immediately, and within three months, she was already dancing on pointe, a technique that many dancers work for years to achieve. At the age of fifteen — two short years after starting lessons, and competing against girls who would have been training for ten or more years — Copeland won the Los Angeles Music Center’s Spotlight Award. That’s where she caught ABT’s eye, and soon, they had offered her a spot with the company. In 2007, six years after joining the company, she became their third ever black soloist.
Even with her abundant talent, she has been honest about her encounters with racism in the ballet world in the past. Speaking to Elle magazine last year, she said, “People make comments. For some people, I don’t look like a ballerina.” But she says that things are changing for the better. She told the BBC, “as much criticism as I get for talking about it as much as I do, I think it’s forcing people to make changes. It’s putting the spotlight on the ballet world and in a way that it’s never been done before.”
Ultimately, Copeland hopes that she can inspire young dancers of all races and backgrounds as she continues to perform. “I had some really incredible people who mentored me… I think it’s so important for young dancers of color to have someone who looks like them as an example — someone they can touch.” And to all the girls out there who feel like they don’t belong, she shared these powerful works of support: “You don’t have to look like everyone around you, you don’t have to follow the exact same path as someone before you. I think that’s been my experience — that it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be unique, that you can set your own path.”
To learn more about her unique life story, Misty Copeland recently published an excellent memoir for older teen and adult readers, “Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” at http://amzn.to/1qah0xn
She is the author of a recent picture book about a little girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina, “Firebird,” for ages 4 to 8 …………… read more at —> https://www.facebook.com/amightygirl?fref=photo