Misty Copeland is the reason many young girls of color are relentless in pursuing their dreams of becoming world class ballerinas.
Dominating the world of ballet makes her an icon. She became the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater (ABT) in 2015 in the company’s 75-year history. ABT is one of the three top ballet companies in the U.S.
She was born on September 10, 1982 and although she started her formal ballet training at the age of 13, an age considered rather late for the dance, she has excelled in many ways no one ever thought she would.
Seeing as she was from an unstable home environment, Copeland got introduced to the dance after her drill team coach Cynthia Bradley advised her to take ballet classes.
Her natural flow and moves didn’t go unnoticed and she enrolled in San Pedro Ballet School where she started taking classes with Bradley.
At a point, Copeland moved in with her teacher when the ballet classes got intensive for her to have easy access to the studio.
In 1998, 15-year-old Copeland won first prize for ballet in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards. That same summer, she was awarded a full summer program scholarship at the San Francisco ballet.
1998 was a rather bittersweet year for Copeland as her mother took on the Bradleys in a custody battle. Her mother, who had been in and out of failed marriages, lodged at a motel with five other siblings.
Copeland had to now move in with her family and began attending San Pedro High School. She continued learning ballet at Lauridsen Ballet Centre in Torrance, California.
Copeland’s exceptional skills landed her another full scholarship in 2000 to ABT’s intensive summer program and she went on to become their National Coco-Cola Scholar that same year.
It was that very summer that her career with ABT began because she was invited to join the dance company.
The dance company’s intake is for only skilled young dancers and the selective program is for young dancers still in training.
She then got a permanent spot in the dance company in 2001, making her the only African-American woman in a group of 80 dancers, another feat worthy of admiration.
An African-American woman dancing ballet causes a lot of stares back then and to be one among 80 other dancers came with its own hurdles.
Her body type and skin color were her major challenges as she stood out from the lot but this pushed her to work harder. Paired with her natural talent, Copeland rose through the ranks.
Copeland became ABT’s first African-American female soloist after two decades with Anne Benna Sims and Nora Kimball as her forerunners.
The ballet sensation is lauded for her title role in The Firebird (2012), Gulnare in Le Corsaire (2013), Swanilda in Coppélia (2014), and the dual lead role, Odette/Odile, in Swan Lake (2014).
Now she is vested in mentoring young boys and girls and working with charitable organisations to help diversify the art form.
She received an honorary doctorate for it from University of Hartford in November 2014.
She is also the author of the New York Times Bestselling memoir, Life in Motion, co-written with award-winning journalist and author Charisse Jones, published March 2014.
Copeland also has a picture book titled Firebird in collaboration with award-winning illustrator and author Christopher Myers, published September 2014.