Misty CopelandThe Ballerina That Became an Icon by Breaking Down BarriersBY JULIANNE HING AND YASHA WALLIN
PHOTO BY HENRY LEUTWYLER
ISSUE No 5
The Ballerina That Became an Icon by Breaking Down Barriers
BY JULIANNE HING AND YASHA WALLIN
PHOTO BY HENRY LEUTWYLER
ISSUE No 5
Misty Copeland is much more than her already impressive job title: principal ballerina at the Ameri-can Ballet Theatre (ABT). But her journey from a shy kid in San Pedro, California, to the height of the elite ballet world has not been without its hiccups. As the first African-American woman to rise to her position in the company’s 75-year history, she has overcome injuries and setbacks, including the sting of racial slights from both the well-meaning and the naysayers. Her perseverance, dedication to giving back through mentorship, and seemingly endless contributions to the world of classical dance have made her that most striking of figures: an icon.
What did it mean for you to be appointed ABT’s first Afri-can-American principal dancer?
It meant and means change, diversity, and inclusion! It is a title that I hold now, but it represents past efforts that have gone unrewarded with that title.
You recently came out with an incredible book: Ballerina Body. This is not your first book, however. What drives you to impart your knowledge to others?
I’m so fortunate to have been brought into the dance world and to have learned what I have from it. As artists, we spend a big chunk of our lifetime figuring things out. If we can’t lend that knowledge, what are we doing it all for? This is how art forms and people grow.
What’s one takeaway you hope people will get after reading this book?
To love themselves!
You’re a household name even for those who don’t follow bal-let. Why do you think your story and what you do particularly resonates with such a broad demographic?
I think the American dream is a real and tangible thing. Seeing hard work, sacrifice, and determination turn to success is something every-one can relate to, especially in America. Everyone’s been told “no” or felt discouraged, so to see what I have experienced through classical ballet, I hope, is very motivating for others.
Vulnerability is a big part of your art on stage. How do you let the audience in, while still retaining that confidence?
It’s a hard balance. I think when you’re in a company or even training in school, you develop trusting relationships with your teachers and coaches so that you have the freedom to be vulnerable, to be critiqued and build yourself up in a safe environment.
This issue’s theme is “game changers.” Who have been some game changers in your life, regardless of medium?
Raven Wilkinson has changed the game for me. When I discovered a black ballerina who experienced being the only black woman in her ballet company in the 1950s, and wasn’t allowed the opportunities I am today—her experience and story opened my eyes. It pushed and motivated me to persevere.
What goes through your mind when you’re performing on stage?
I’m thinking of the character. Truly! I am the character.
What is your favorite ballet to perform and why?
Romeo and Juliet. It’s a very meaty acting role, which I feel is a strength of mine. It’s a character that is very real and relatable. She’s not a fairy or a mythical creature.
Ballet slippers or hotel slippers?
Hotel slippers! Ballet slippers are the flat shoes worn at the ballet barre. I prefer pointe shoes. But between ballet slippers and hotel slippers, I’ll take hotel slippers
Seeing hard work, sacrifice, and determination turn to success is something everyone can relate to, especially in America.