Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She began her studies in Ballet in 1996 after being convinced to attend a dance class. She was further urged due to her mother and older sister’s long work days. After studying for three months, she became efficient at en pointe. In 2000 she joined the American Ballet Theater studio company and in 2001 became a member of the Corps de ballet. After a delayed onset of puberty and taking birth control to induce puberty, Copeland developed a binge-eating disorder. The new development of her body coupled with the stress of societal pressures of how a ballerina is “supposed to look” left Copeland feeling unconfident. She decided, in turn, to build her strength and in doing so changed the aesthetic pressures placed on ballet dancers. She felt comfortable in her skin again. In 2007, she was appointed as a soloist at ABH. As of 2008, Copeland has been the only African-American woman dancer since the inception of her career; the three other African-American dancers have since left the company. In 2014 she became the only African-American woman to perform the role of Swanilda in Coppelia at the MET. In 2015, Copeland became the first Black woman to be promoted to principal ballerina in the 75 years of ABH’s founding. In 2017, she danced with the La Scala Theatre Ballet.