If you managed to go to see Tchaikovsky’s Ballet ,The Nutcracker this past holiday season, you probably saw a great ballet dancer in the leading role who happens to be a black woman. If you saw her riding the subway, she would look like just another face in the crowd. At work, she is the star. She is the only afro-american soloist in The American Ballet Theatre. She had the lead in the production that was shown at The Brooklyn Academy of Music. She is Misty Copeland and is 32 years old. She was also featured in an advertisement dancing for Under Armour. She has danced with Prince on tour. And already written a best- selling autobiography called Life In Motion.
She is also developing a new TV show. Misty does photo shoots for Amtrack . All the commercial exposure is wanted because she wants to be a new kind of cover girl for ballet. She wants ballet to feel open to anyone these days. She has the unlikely background to become a ballerina. Misty was one of six kids growing up in California as her mother remarried 4times. Growing up was more chaos than comforting for her. She would find a space for herself and put on music and move to distract her from the constant changes in her childhood.
A teacher recommended that she take ballet lessons at the local Boys and Girls club. Less than 2 years later she entered her first competition at the Los Angeles music center and won it. By then Misty moved in with her white dance teacher’s home to get more intense training. Soon she found herself in the middle of a nasty public custody dispute published in newspapers. He mother wanted her to come home meanwhile she and her 4 husbands never gave her much support and encouragement in terms of her dancing aspirations. At 15 years old she still feels scared from the entire experience. At 18 she moved to New York to join the resound American Ballet Theater.
It was there that being surrounded by 80 wonderful dancers that she was the only black woman. She felt completely isolated and alone. She thought about quitting but couldn’t. Then she met an older woman they asked her to pose with at the Amtrack shoot. It was Raven Wilkenson who was a pioneer ballet dancer in the 1950’s who left because of all the civil rights problems of those times in America. Misty Copeland realized that she must stay since there has not been an accomplished black female ballet dancer to come forward since then. Misty had a reason to be there now.
In April of 2012 Copeland’s big breakthrough happened when she was given the lead to dance in Stravinski’s Firebird. Her picture was on billboards in Lincoln Center. She danced so hard and fiercely that she injured her leg with stress fractures that could have cracked her leg at any time but she continued with her performances. She took the dangerous chance because she was 29 years old and finally achieved the biggest goal she could have. It was career life or death and since then has recovered to full strength in her legs.
Misty Copeland got wonderful reviews and after recovering won the principle role in Swan Lake in Australia this past summer. Swan Lake is the most challenging and the pinnacle of a career. The long tall white woman usually Russian has been replaced by a shorter black woman. The only thing left for her to achieve is to be awarded the title of Principle Dancer. She would be the first black woman to ever achieve that title. Black people being raised in white worlds can be a good thing. We have seen it before with Obama whose white mother and white grandparents raised him and the successful football player that Sandra Bullock movies were made about to beautiful Halle Berry and we continue to see it now.