Misty Copeland: Unlikely BallerinaBy: Lacy Langley - November 24, 2013
Misty Copeland has made quite a name for herself in the world of ballet. She is a self-proclaimed traditionalist and purist when it comes to ballet, and she has contributed a new face to the art, as a biracial woman in her company, the American Ballet Theatre. She joined the theatre at the age of 16, only 3 years after beginning her study at 13, and is now one of only six female soloists in the company, and the only African-American, according to Yahoo.
The American Ballet Theatre recently opened for the fall season. Copeland is performing in “Theme and Variations,” among several other ballets. When asked about her dream roles, she said they would likely include Kitri in “Don Quixote,” “Giselle” and Odette in “Swan Lake.” Two years ago, she danced the role of Gamzatti in “La Bayadere,” a role she would like to reprise as a “more experienced and mature dancer.”
She has accomplished some pretty impressive things in her short career, and has done some outstanding and unusual things with ballet. For example, she performed with Prince at a concert at Madison Square Garden, a performance she had to think long and hard about.
“When I first was in touch with him, I thought very carefully about why,” she said. “I don’t want to ever do anything to sacrifice my art form. What will my art form benefit from working with him? What I wanted was for more people to see ballet.”
The result? It made ballet “cool”, she said.
Copeland has not always had a picture perfect life. Her single-parent household of six children was “barely scraping by,” when she first thought about studying ballet. However, in her family, extracurricular activities were a luxury that were not to be even thought of. But the challenges were overcome, and when she was 13, the age most ballerinas have been studying ballet for a decade already, she stepped up to the barre in gym clothes, and was an instant prodigy.
“I know that ballet was the light that came into my life that I always say saved me,” said Copeland. “It made me who I am, as well as those struggles.”
It is in this spirit, that she helped form ABT’s new initiative “Project Plie”, which offers scholarships and teacher training. The program aims to increase ethnic and racial representation in both the American Ballet Theatre and other companies, and includes a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand how separated we are from the rest of the world in terms of arts and in terms of athleticism,” said Copeland. “It doesn’t matter that other art forms are more diverse or that we have a black president and we have a Tiger Woods and a Venus and Serena Williams. Ballet is so separate from all of that and slower to evolve.
“I think we’re at the point now where classical ballet has to evolve with the rest of world or it’s not going to last,” Copeland continued. “And so we have to diversify it, diversify the people on the stage as well as the people in the audience.”
Misty Copeland is the author of a memoir called, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.” She said of the writing process, “it’s been hard to go back and revisit some of the situations I was put in as a child.” However, she credits her experiences as a child for making her a strong woman. She said the advice she would impart to children who are suffering through a custody battle would be to “know that it’s not your fault” and to be forgiving.
She said her family has overcome their earlier struggles and are now in a good place. They are now able to be proud of each other for having the will to see her succeed. “Our daily life was surviving,” recalled Copeland. “So for me to become sort of the focal point of my family and this career that none of us knew anything about, it was really hard for [my mom] to accept that and to put that as a priority. None of her children were ever more of a priority than another. But then realizing how special a case I was, and how gifted I was, we all made sacrifices.”
Her memoir will be published in March.
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