top of page

Community Advocacy Organization

Misty Copeland: Trailblazer in a Tutu

Updated: Apr 10


Misty Danielle Copeland was born September 10, 1982, in Kansas City Missouri. Misty Copeland is not your typical Prima Ballerina. She is a trailblazer in a tutu American by becoming the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT's 75-year history. 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.

Misty Copeland 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/Wire image.


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.

In 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 served as a member of President Barack Obama's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.

Misty is the author of the New York Times Bestselling memoir, Life in Motion, co-written with award-winning journalist and author Charisse Jones, published March 2014. She has a picture book titled Firebird in collaboration with award-winning illustrator and author Christopher Myers, published September 2014.  She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hartford in November 2014 for her contributions to classical ballet and helping to diversify the art form.

She made her first awards season guest performances in 2019 with Taylor Swift at the American Music Awards and at the 2020 Grammy Awards alongside Camilla Cabella, Common, Ben Platt, and dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, as well as the televised Prince Grammy Tribute performing with award-winning recording artist H.E.R.

Misty made her Broadway debut in The Town in 2015 and her major motion picture debut in Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms in 2018. She is also featured in an episode of Masterclass, the online series.

Misty started her production company, Life InMotion Productions, focused on bringing representative stories of artists past, present, and future, and normalizing the arts experience. Her first independently produced project, Flower, premiered at the Tribeca Festival in 2023 and is a silent arts activism film using dance to help raise awareness about intergenerational equity.

Misty is an avid philanthropist and is an ambassador of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, of which she is also an alum. In 2022, Misty launched The Misty Copeland Foundation, with its first signature program BEBOLD, which aims to bring greater diversity, equity and inclusion to dance, especially ballet.

In 2023, she launched the women’s line of Greatness Wins, an athletic wear business she co-founded with Derek Jete and Chris Riccobono. Misty is the New York Times best-selling author of Life In Motion, Ballerina Body, Black Ballerinas, and a picture book titled Bunheads. She is also author of the award-winning children’s picture book, Firebird.

Misty’s book, The Wind at My Back, in tribute to her late mentor and friend, pioneering ballerina Raven Wilkinson, published November 2022. In 2021, Misty was the recipient of the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest honor and in 2023, she received the Trailblazer Icon Award at The Griot Awards, was named to The Root 100 list, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from New York University. Prior honors include Glamour’s Women of the Year, Black Girls Rock! Awards, and Time 100 Most Influential People. 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.

bottom of page