Press enter or return to search.


Misty Copeland: An inspiration

Misty Copeland and Edwaard Liang at MCA (Milana B./Staff) Copeland (Wikimedia Commons)

On Tuesday, February 6, I arrived at the Jeanne B. McCoy Center for the Arts. Hosted by the New Albany Community Foundation, accomplished history makers share their experiences in New Albany’s Lecture Series. Edwaard Liang, BalletMet’s artistic director, welcomed Misty Copeland as the crowd erupted when she walked on stage.

From the first time I ever heard of Misty Copeland, I wish I knew who she was sooner. Maybe she would be my role model all this time. Maybe she would be the one to look at and say “I can do it, too.” Maybe she would be the dream. 

She may just be the greatest, most eminent ballerina of all time, because her road to success began with an unclear, unpaved path.

Copeland grew up with her five siblings and her mother in Kansas City, Missouri. Due to familial issues and financial instability, her early life had a rocky start. When asked where she got her passion for dance, Copeland said, “It all started with Mariah Carey.” Choreographing dance routines to Carey’s songs in her basement, she found an easiness to the rhythm of the music. Years later when her family moved to San Pedro, California, she gained the courage to try out for her middle school dance team.

Then she decided to take her dance training to the next level. She started ballet at the age of 13, and within four years she joined the American Ballet Theater’s (ABT) studio company to train alongside professionals in 2000. ABT is one of the most prestigious dance companies in the nation, and this opportunity was just the beginning of Copeland’s many achievements.

Just as Copeland got into the company, and even while growing up, she realized that the other ballerinas around her did not look like her. As a European and African-American biracial woman, she had little to no racial connection in the dance world. To convey what she was feeling, she opened up to ABT’s faculty and said, “I can’t be in this space and not be honest about what I’m experiencing.” 

I related to Copeland’s words, because even I struggled to cope with my identity as a dancer. Many people quote the term “dancing in the dark,” and I concur that that is how I felt some days: feeling isolated in a place where I wanted to express myself. 

Copeland also recalls the things that people would say about her, for example, “People thought that I did not deserve the recognition that I got. They said that I was the ‘race card’ and did not actually earn my place.”  But, ABT understood her point of view, and she said, “They welcomed me into their space, and I think that was a key moment for me. I knew that it was not easy for dancers like me to fit into certain spaces.”

Furthermore, race in the dance realm is still a controversial topic. While dancers of color are gaining recognition, the history of dance did not support this. Copeland said, “Back in the day, there used to be a heavy stigma against colored dancers. They even called productions ‘white ballets,’ and all of the dancers had to be white.”

In an effort to learn more, I studied the relationship between color and dance, and it was nothing but negative. From what I learned over the years, in the late 1800s and before, choreographers believed that colored dancers ruined the aesthetic of the ballet. In corps de ballet, all of the dancers do the same moves behind the demi-soloists and principal dancers. So the choreographers decided that having a black dancer standing in between the white dancers ruined their “perfect picture,” because the colored ballerina drew the audiences’ attention away from the rest of the ballerinas. 

Although she understood the stigma against colored dancers, Copeland kept working harder. Despite slander from her community, Copeland made history in 2007 by becoming the first African-American principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history. Principal dancers train for and perform the lead roles in company productions. Copeland continues to inspire ballerinas–-those of color, in particular–to keep pushing through societal standards and to vocalize what they may likely be feeling. She said, “You don’t need to keep all of your emotions inside. I believe that is, essentially, counterproductive. From talking to my close friends and my mentors, I was able to push past my thoughts and start reaching towards my ambitions.”

Copeland started her own production company, Life in Motion Productions, in 2023 and recently completed her first project, Flower, a silent arts activism film that uses dance to raise awareness about homelessness.

A philanthropist and ambassador for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, of which she is also an alumni, Copeland is the author of several New York Times bestsellers, including Ballerina Body, Bunheads, and Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina

Throughout her dance journey, she continues to be a reminder for brown and black dancers to follow your dreams and to push through adversity.



Comments are closed.