“I have never set limits for myself” – Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland actually laughed the first time her teacher told her she had the talent to become a professional dancer. At the time, the teenaged Copeland didn’t even know what it meant to be a “professional dancer”. Yet, from the start, she proved to be a prodigy. Beginning ballet at the late age of 13, she became strong enough to do pointe after only three months of training. Five months later, she was cast as Clara in The Nutcracker. At age 15, she received a full scholarship to attend San Francisco Ballet School’s summer intensive program. By age 19, she joined the corps of American Ballet Theatre.
But her career did not have smooth start. She soon fractured a vertebra in her lower back during rehearsal- an injury that took a year to fully recover from. Furthermore, doctors were concerned that her bones weren’t as strong as they should be because she hadn’t gone through puberty yet. They put her on medication to start the process. As a result, Copeland quickly developed a figure that was not considered ideal for ballet. When ABT management told her that she needed to “lengthen” (code for “lose weight”), she was devastated and fell into disordered eating. But, eventually, and with the encouragement and mentoring of a former ABT dancer, Copeland began to embrace her new body. She said, “My curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one.”
In 2007 Copeland was promoted to soloist, the first African-American in two decades to achieve this rank at ABT. She hopes to go on to become the first female African-American principal in the history of ABT. Copeland has made it one of her goals to promote greater diversity within the ballet community. She says, “I’d like to continue to inspire dancers, especially dancers of color, in this art form. And I’d like to be remembered for changing the minds of people that may have been closed off to what they expect to see in the ballet world.” Copeland’s advice to everyone is to “accept everything about you that makes you different.”
- She enjoys listening to music before a performance- just not classical music.
- When she performed in Swan Lake as a corps member, she would quietly sing to herself to get through the second act. She said, “it’s agony, so you have to go someplace else in your mind.”
- Her favorite step is grand jeté. Her least favorite is fouetté.
Follow Misty On:
Photos of Young Copeland Dancing:
Copeland Dancing at Age 15:
Copeland Dancing at Age 18:
Copeland Dancing Today:
Copeland’s Journey in Dance, Race in Ballet
Excerpt from Copeland’s Memoir “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”
Copeland Talks About Her Diet and Favorite Cosmetics
Q&A with Copeland
Ballet News Interviews Copeland
Copeland’s Children’s Book