Misty Copeland: An Unlikely Ballerina's Rise to Fame From Tumultuous Childhood to Center Stage

Pam WrightLife

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Misty Copeland is the only African-American soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, however, her rise to fame was a bumpy one.

The 32-year-old California native said she began dancing to escape a tumultuous childhood as one of six children. Her mother married and remarried four times, and her home life was anything but settled.

“Whenever there was chaos in my house, whether it was arguing, being in a cramped space with all of us kids and screaming, I found an empty space where I could just put music on and move,” Copeland told Anthony Mason for CBS Sunday Morning.

"We were just all together, the Copelands, trying to survive," she said.

Copland, who recently released her memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, began studying dance in earnest at 13, at the suggestion of a teacher. Her dance teachers, Cindy and Patrick Bradley, invited the young dancer to move in with them to focus on her training. However, trouble soon erupted when the Bradleys were taken to court in a very public custody dispute with Copeland's mother, who wanted her daughter to come home.

"I still feel like it's scarred me," Copeland said. "And it's something a child of 15 years old should never experience. But I made it through and I'm here."

Her first break came at 18, when she began dancing for the American Ballet Theatre and became the first African-American soloist with the company in 2012, when she was given the lead in Stravinsky’s Firebird. That role was followed by the principal role in Swan Lake, a sort of holy grail for any ballet dancer.

“It’s what ballet is,” she said. “It’s kind of reaching the pinnacle. It’s the most challenging in every way, but to be a black woman and to be given that role is even bigger."

Pam Wright