In June 2015, Misty Copeland shifted the world of ballet when she was appointed the first African-American Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theater.
Copeland’s road to ballet royalty is sort of like a Cinderella story. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, a tumultuous and unstable home life lead her to finding comfort and solace in the world of performance art. Discovered during a ballet class on the basketball court of the Boys & Girls Club, Copeland made a commitment to the art under the mentorship of Cynthia Bradley.
While gaining public recognition as a prodigy, Copeland would go on to perform at an event for the actress Angela Bassett and later score the leading role in Debbie Allen‘s Chocolate Nutcracker.
“She’s an incredibly gifted ballerina. . .She’s a child who dances in her soul,” Debbie Allen on Copeland in a December 1999 issue of Los Angeles Times Magazine. “I can’t imagine her doing anything else.”
Aware of the opportunity at hand and the possibility of a career, Copeland’s love for movement was embodied when she connected to the story of gymnast Nadia Comaneci and practiced to the sounds of Mariah Carey.
I didn’t want to stop. It was an escape from my every day life, and struggling with my mother financially. And then once I started ballet and I saw my first performance with American Ballet Theatre (ABT), that was when I started to dream. I think those were the first times I really started to envision a different life.
Timeline of Excellence
- Takes Summer Intensive at American Ballet Theatre
- Joins American Ballet Theatre Studio
- Becomes part of ABT’s Corps de Ballet
- Makes history and becomes the first African-American female ABT Soloist
- Showcase Productions:
– Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère
– Alexei Ratmansky’s Firebird and The Nutcracker
– Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite and Bach Partita
Outside the world of ballet, Misty’s unapologetic appreciation for being an African-American woman in dance, shed a spotlight on the racial issues within the industry. As one of the few African-American performers in classical dance, Copeland holds herself personally responsible to bring awareness and culture to the world of ballet.
By the time I got to ABT, I was not at all prepared to deal with what I walked into. I just had no history of the ballet and Black women in it. I had no idea that I was going to walk into ABT and be the only Black woman there, and for the next eleven years still be the only Black woman there. And so I just wasn’t prepared. I think over time, maturing and growing, and understanding how the ballet culture and the history of it works, it’s become easier on a daily basis. But it is hard.
- Copeland Joins the advisory board for ABT’s “Project Plié”- an initiative launched to increase racial and ethnic representation at ballet companies around the country.
- Best-selling memoir: Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
- Award winning “Firebird” (childrens picture book)
2015 & other major accomplishments:
- Stars in Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” video campaign – 8 million views and counting
- Named one of Time‘s Most Influential People
- The first African-American woman to dance with ABT in the dual role of Odette and Odile in Pyotry Ilycih Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
- The first African-American performer to be appointed an ABT principal dancer in the company’s 75-year history
- Joined the cast of the Broadway revival of Leonard Bernstein‘s On the Town
- Becomes member of President Barack Obama‘s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition
- Misty Copeland Documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale
HERSource recognizes Misty Copeland during Women’s History Month for becoming one of the most important, and influential dancers in history. She is not only an inspiration and role model for young girls of color, she is also a representation for dancers and dreamers of all shapes, colors, and backgrounds worldwide.