Tears, real tears. As an avid lover of ballet and absolutely unapologetic Misty Copeland stan, I was delighted to see my Twitter feed overflow on Tuesday with tweets of congratulations for the dancer and her promotion at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) to principal dancer. Becoming a principal at a ballet company is already a huge accomplishment, but this is a historical moment — Misty is the first black female principal at ABT in the company’s 75 year history. In a profession dominated by rail thin white women, she broke through not only color barriers, but also the perceptions of how a dancer’s body should look, to reach her goal.
And what’s even more amazing? Misty didn’t begin her formal ballet training until the age of thirteen, while many dancers start practicing before they can even enter elementary school. By fourteen, the prodigy had already won her first solo role, living part-time with her manager, Cynthia Bradley. Copeland then went on to become increasingly recognized in the LA-area for her ballet talents and won several awards, landing a coveted scholarship at the San Francisco Ballet summer workshop. In her junior year of high school, Misty began her ballet studies at the Lauridsen Ballet Centre. She joined ABT’s Studio Company in 2000 and continued to excel in several roles, eventually rising to mainstream fame due to her extraordinary talent and back story.
During her career, Copeland developed a binge eating disorder after artistic staff told her that her body lines had changed and she needed to “lengthen,” which is a polite way of saying she needed to lose weight. The ballet world is especially cutthroat when it comes to the female body and after she developed curves due to medically induced maturation, her body no longer fit the dancer stereotype.
However, Misty had positive influences in her life that renewed her self-confidence and desire to dance. She recalls in her 2014 Self interview, “I’d always believed that what mattered was how I looked, how well I embodied certain standards of perfection. But now I started to understand that my body’s natural evolution into womanhood had validity, too. Dancing had always made me happy, and I wanted that back. So my priority became simply accepting my new self. I focused on what I wanted: to feel good, to be confident in my skin again, to dance.” She now embraces her curves, defying the stereotype of the “perfect” dancer body and looking fabulous while doing it. Werk.
In addition to Copeland’s admirable career at ABT (she also became the first black soloist at ABT in more than two decades), she has performed on tour with Prince and was featured in Blackberry, Dr. Pepper and most notably, Under Armour ad campaigns. Her memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, is a New York Times bestseller (I highly recommend it). This year, TIME named her one of the most 100 influential people in the world for changing the face of classical ballet and being a role model for young girls (and may I note, women too!).
Misty Copeland’s ongoing dedication to her craft and ability to overcome the odds make her a true example of “black girl magic.” I can’t wait to see what she does next in her career. Congrats, Misty! Also…check out the video of her after her promotion to principal is announced. It will give you all the feels.
What do you feel Misty’s accomplishment will mean for black girls everywhere?