Everyone knows that I like stories about women who enjoy being groundbreakers. Misty Copeland, who was born on September 10th, 1982, is one of the few African-American female soloists dancing for a leading classical ballet company. She is actually the third African-American soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, and the first in two decades with that company. Copeland is often referred to as the "Jackie Robinson" of classical ballet.
Copeland has written an autobiography (Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Touchstone, $24.99) in which she describes her challenging childhood. She and her five siblings were raised by their mother, who had four marriages and a number of boyfriends (1: No Paternal Safety Net). She writes that from the age of two "...our family began a pattern that would define my siblings' and my childhood: packing, scrambling, leaving--often barely surviving" (12: Hard Times).
One of the things that makes her so special is that she rose to stardom in spite of not starting her ballet studies until she was thirteen years old (2: An Early Sense of Direction). And within three months of beginning her classes, she was allowed to dance en pointe. Her drill team coach, Liz Cantine, at Dana Middle School in San Pedro, California, recognized her innate talent; Copeland was the team captain. And after she saw a ballet class at her local Boys & Girls Club, Copeland enrolled for the free ballet classes. That's where she met Cynthia Bradley, who helped shape her talent (4: Supportive Someone).
Bradley provided transportation for dance school classes, and Copeland soon moved in (during the week) with the Bradleys, who lived a two-hour bus ride from her mother's home (where she spent weekends), which was a motel room. After only eight months of study, Copeland danced as Clara in The Nutcracker, and the media took note of the huge jump in ticket sales for those performances, as well as her appearance in Don Quixote (13: More Than Meets the Eye).
When she was only 15, Copeland won first place in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards, and began her studies at the Lauridsen Ballet Center. Soon after, she was offered workshop grants from six major dance companies, and selected to study with The San Francisco Ballet School. Throughout her junior year in high school, she also maintained a 3.8/4.0 GPA (10: The Critic Within).
After her time in San Francisco, where she learned about a minor's right to file emancipation, Copeland chose to stay with the Bradleys (14: Selective Disassociation). But a fierce battle began, and a judge finally ruled in her mother's favor. By the year 2000, she had joined Ballet Theater's Summer program, and joined the senior troupe the next year. Within four years she realized that because of her race it would be difficult for her to win the classical parts that her peers received. "Suddenly I felt aware of being black..." (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).
But in 2007, the five foot two inch dancer was promoted to soloist, and received principal roles in La Bayadere, Le Corsaire and The Firebird (8: Turning No Into Yes). In addition to her dancing, Copeland has begun to enter other fields as well. She became a spokesperson for Project Plie, an initiative to broaden leadership within the ballet community, has written two books, starred in a documentary, filmed a music video--and performed on stage--with Prince, and marketed calendars and dancewear under the name of M by Misty (11: Risk Addiction).
Susan Jaffe, is the Dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and a former Ballet Theater ballerina. According to her, Copeland "...wants to do the big classical roles, and she can, because she is very strong and clear, with an incredible amplitude. But I think she is a new kind of dancer. There is so much untapped potential there. With the right choreographer, she could do anything."
Looking forward to your comments...