Misty Copeland September 10, 1982 -
Misty Copeland is not just a ballerina; she is a revolutionary who happens to earn a living working in ballet. Copeland’s ascendence to the very top of the ballet world is an inspiration to ballerinas of color everywhere, but her road to classical dancing prominence was far from easy.
Before being formally introduced to ballet, Copeland shared a motel room floor with her five siblings in Greater Los Angeles. Copeland took her first ballet classes at age 13. She “was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year.” She was a natural, and her first instructor, Cynthia "Cindy" Bradley, realized the youngster’s grace and form had incalculable potential.
Though a modern incarnation of Aphrodite, Copeland’s physical aesthetic and ethnicity are uncommon for classical dance. This presented an additional hurdle for the dancing wonder to overcome. Not only was her path to classical dance non-traditional, but also her body-type, having natural curves and athletic musculature were not always perceived as well suited for ballet. This archaic mindset did not derail her hopes. Deep down, Copeland must have known her chiseled, statuesque frame was befitting an art and beauty section of a Parisian museum.
In 2000, Copeland joined the famed American Ballet Theatre (ABT) as a part of their Studio Company. ABT is the preeminent U.S. theatre company for classical dance with international acclaim. Upon completion of its regular eight to twelve weeks of U.S. performances, ABT performs across the globe. Copeland promoted through ABT first to its corps de ballet in 2001, then Soloist in 2007 and ultimately to Principal Dancer in 2015. Copeland was only the second African-American to reach the rank of Soloist in the company’s 78-year history.
She is the first African-American in ABT history to perform as Principal Dancer.