Today, Misty Copeland is one of the most famous principal dancers in the world of ballet. However, her ballet journey is different than any other professional ballerina. In addition to already being dealt a tough hand of cards from the beginning, she had to fight her way into an industry lacking diversity. She was tasked with the difficult job of being the first. Specifically, she became the first African American dancer at American Ballet Theatre, or ABT for short.
Copeland was born on September 10, 1982 as the fourth child of six. Her family moved around quite a bit before finally settling down in San Pedro, California. There, she and her family lived with her mother’s boyfriend, who was physically and emotionally abusive towards the entire family.
It was soon discovered that Copeland was a natural born athlete. In middle school, Copeland was made captain of her school’s drill team. The drill team coach, taking notice of her skills, suggested that Copeland start taking ballet classes. As a result, Copeland started taking classes at the local boys and girls club, in which she was already a member. She was an immediate success, capturing the attention of a teacher at San Pedro Ballet School, where Copeland continued her training. Soon after she started, Copeland started training en pointe, meaning she started working in pointe shoes. This achievement that usually requires years of rigorous training, but Copeland managed to start within three months of her first ballet class.
Though her training was going extremely well, Copeland’s life at home was getting worse. Because of the interfere with her dancing, Copeland’s ballet teacher offered to house Copeland for the time being. Therefore, at the young age of thirteen, she moved in with her ballet teacher and lived there for the following two years while she continued to train. At the age of fifteen, Copeland decided she wanted to fight for legal emancipation from her mother. However, her request was immediately declined, and she was sent back home to live with her mother.
At this point, Copeland decided that nothing was going to come between her and her dream of becoming a professional dancer. She went to audition after audition, where she was repeatedly rejected because of the color of her skin. Finally, in 1999, Copeland got into a summer intensive at the prestigious ABT. Following this, she joined ABT’s studio company in September of 2000, and ABT’s corps de ballet in 2001. Years later, in 2007 she was made an official soloist of ABT and was given leads in productions such as Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère, Alexei Ratmansky’s Firebird and The Nutcracker, and Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite and Bach Partita.
In recent years, Copeland was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in spring of 2015. To this day, Copeland still continues to dance for ABT. In the process, she carves the way for diverse dancers of the future to make their ballet dreams come true, just like she did.
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