LIFE IN MOTION
Misty Copeland’s life story is all inspiring and fairytale-like, filled with fateful events and magnificence. It is also a story mixed with adversity, personal struggle and the grace, strength and perseverance to overcome it. Her tale is of an identity discovered and revealed, an unbridling and nurturing of her natural talents. It is of her tremendous passion and dedication that have supported her and continue to carry her forward on her subsequent journey as she challenges and redefines what it means to be a classical dancer and woman in 21st century America.
A common aspiration for many young girls in America is to become a ballerina. But at age 13, Misty Copeland, a petite African-American from a low-income neighborhood in Southern California didn’t have that dream. She had no interest in ballet and in fact had never even seen a ballet, a type of dance traditionally reserved for a privileged class and for those with light colored skin. Yet, while taking a free dance class through her local “Boys and Girls Club,” she was discovered, plucked off a basketball court and declared a prodigy. And, so began the story of how Misty’s dream found her and how ballet would pull her through hardship as she defined who she would become. It also set into motion a regimented discipline of plies, tendus and port de bras that would only a few years later, at age 19, lead her onto the stage and into the lights of one of the greatest theaters in the world, the Metropolitan Opera House, where she joined the ranks of the renowned ballet company, “American Ballet Theater,” (ABT) as the only African-American female at that time.
Misty would remain the sole black dancer for another 11 years in the corps de ballet until 2007, when she would make history and become the first African-American to be promoted to the rank of soloist in two decades and only the third African-American in the company’s 76-year history. As Misty continues to expand her artistry as a soloist, one can only hope that she will soon realize the full extent of her dream and take the stage as a principal dancer, breaking the mold yet once again by becoming the first African-American female principal in the history of ABT.
As a soloist, Misty is given the opportunity to learn new roles, perhaps as a way of preparation for promotion to the next rank as the company determines whether she is ready to carry the weight of an entire ballet on her performance. After dancing to acclaim with principal dancer, Herman Cornejo, in her break-through role in a revised version of the “Firebird” created for her last spring by Alexei Ratmansky, Misty will now take the stage in her first full-length featured lead, dancing the role of Swanilda in the classical ballet, “Coppelia.” The production will premiere in Abu Dhabi in March 2014 and then in the 2014 spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, where she will perform on opening night again with Cornejo. “I couldn’t be happier, she explained, “I’m so grateful and I cannot wait to start preparing for it, to watch so many videos of these incredible ballerinas that I’ve looked up to, to start studying the story and then to be able to dance with Herman again is such an honor.”
Also hitting the shelves in March 2014 is Misty’s heartfelt and inspiring memoir, “Life in Motion, An Unlikely Ballerina.” Misty recognized her unique position, “I think it is so important to be able to share and pass on my knowledge and everything that I have learned just growing up and being a woman and of course all of my struggles as a black classical dancer. I think it is so valuable for me to speak on my experiences whether negative or positive, and I want to be truthful and honest about them.” Scheduled for the fall of 2014, is the release of Misty’s first children’s picture book, “Firebird,” in collaboration with award winning author and illustrator, Christopher Myers. “I think it’s pretty incredible that I’m having these opportunities to write books,” she explained, adding, “it’s amazing that “Firebird” is going to be called something that was so close to me in redefining my career.”
Misty spoke of her many mentors and how principal dancer, Paloma Herrera, whom she dances with to this day, gave her strength from afar. “Having many mentors, and being a mentor to so many young dancers that I experience hands on, is a part of what keeps me grounded, keeps me growing, and keeps me just in tune with myself,” she explained. At the time of our interview, Misty had recently returned from a meeting at the White House where she was honored with a cultural ambassador role of sorts for the launch of a new initiative for which she felt a very passionate calling: “Project Plie,” a collaboration with ABT and The Boys and Girls Club, two organizations very dear to her and that have been a part of her life for so long. The program brings top-notch dance training to disadvantaged communities so that more people can be a part of dance, not just those with the economic means. Her enthusiasm was contagious, “I want to bring in every race, background, minority, underprivileged community so that everyone can be a part of this.”
As we concluded our interview in Central Park, Misty took a moment to look around and take in the ambient sounds of the nature and the city. A few young girls were watching her from afar and were simply in awe of the ballerina. Misty smiled as she acknowledged their presence, ascended the steps, dance bag in tow, as she headed out of the park and back to the streets of New York City.