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Community Advocacy Organization

Black History-Misty Copeland's Journey of Leaps and Bounds

Misty Copleand and Prince perform during his "Welcome 2 America" tour at Madison Square Garden on February 7, 2011, in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Wireimage)


Misty Copeland is not your typical Prima Ballerina. She is a trailblazer in a tutu. Misty’s well-chronicled journey to becoming the first female African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre has helped jumpstart conversations about racial representation in ballet companies. Misty is a strong, graceful and breathtaking performer continually breaking the barriers of classical dance. Dance is her voice and a driving force in her life. She is pushing racial barriers and proving ballerina stereotypes are non-sense.

Misty Copeland if from Kansas City. During her childhood she endured a tumultuous home life to find her way to dance, eventually studying under California ballet instructor Cindy Bradley. Copeland joined the studio company of American Ballet Theatre in 2000, becoming a soloist several years later and starring in an array of productions such as The Nutcracker and Firebird. An icon whose star shines beyond the world of classical dance, in late June 2015 Copeland became the first African American performer to be appointed as an ABT principal dancer in the company's decade’s long history.

With a non-traditional entry into ballet, Copeland has created buzz outside of that world due to her being one of the few African American performers seen in classical dance. In a meteoric rise, she has continually acknowledged the responsibility she feels to brown girls looking to make their way in the art form. Her trailblazing accomplishments have been recognized by a range of institutions, and in spring 2015 she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, a rare feat for someone from the dance world.

n June 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to dance with ABT in the dual role of Odette and Odile in Pyotry Ilycih Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Then on June 30 of that same year, Copeland scored a monumental achievement covered the world over, becoming the first African American performer to be appointed an ABT principal dancer in the company's 75-year history. At a subsequent news conference, an emotional Copeland stated in tears that the announcement marked the culmination of her lifelong dream. Copeland has also been able to forge a career outside of the classic traditions of ballet via the guidance of manager Gilda Squire. In addition to having her own 2013 calendar, endorsement deals with COACH and American Express, a spot-on Prince’s Welcome 2 tour, and a guest appearance on So You Think You Can Dance, Copeland has been one of the stars of Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” video campaign, with her clip receiving more than 8 million views and counting. Copeland is also a member of President Barack Obama's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.

The ballerina has also become a tour de force in the literary world, publishing two works in 2014: New York Times best-selling memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, with journalist Charisse Jones as co-writer, and the award-winning children’s picture book Firebird, with art by Christopher Myers

As time goes on Misty continues to define dance for herself and not allow others to define her success. Her breathtaking performances continue to inspire those wanting to follow in her footsteps. In addition, she has opened up a new world to a diverse audience who has decided to explore the world of classical ballet.

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