Misty Copeland is a ballet dancer. But there is so much more to her than just that. She is a fighter. She is an athlete. She is a trailblazer. And at 32, she is the first African-American woman to be named a principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.
Her rise to fame — thanks in part to social media — reached meteoric heights after she graced the cover of Time magazine and after her 60 Minutes profile. But it is her tenacity and never give up attitude that has gotten her where she is today, and she is fast becoming of one the most famous ballerinas ever.
And she has had a very interesting life. Here are nine facts about her you might not know:
In ballet years, she might've been 100. She was told she was too old and that she would never be any good because she was starting so late.
She began doing ballet at free classes offered at the Boys and Girls Club on a basketball court. In case you need to be told, that's not traditional. When she started middle school, she and her mother moved into a motel and her mother told her she was going have to quit ballet. She was lucky enough to have a ballet teacher who recognized her talents and allowed her to live in her home during the week so that she could continue dancing.
To pursue her dreams, she almost emancipated herself from her mother. After three years of living mostly with her ballet teacher, her mother told her she was to move back home, possibly jeopardizing her dancing. So Copeland, at age 15, began the proceedings to become emancipated. She eventually made amends with her mother and dropped her case. Her mother isn't a bad person, though. Copeland's life was difficult because she was always bouncing around different homes with her mother's new love interests, along with her five siblings. Her mother sometimes just had to make difficult decisions. Copeland said during a Washington Post interview, "My mother definitely instilled in me and my sibling this strength, this will, to just continue to survive and succeed."
Literally, she had the wrong body. "Dear candidate, thank you for your application to our ballet academy. Unfortunately, you have not been accepted. You lack the right feet, Achilles tendons, turnout, torso length, and bust. You have the wrong body for ballet, and at 13, you are too old to be considered." These are the words we hear being read by a young girl in Copeland's I Will What I Want campaign. She sure proved them wrong.
There is no doubt that she is a world-class professional athlete and she acknowledges that, but she still thinks of herself as an artist first. She told the Washington Post in April, "I'm definitely an artist. I think as a dancer it's a given, at least for us, that we're extremely hard-working athletes. But being an artist is so much more. It's an understanding of telling a story with your body, of becoming an actress onstage… It takes a lot of imagination."
Copeland is happy to be able to represent ballet dancers as athletes to the public. In an interview with Women's Health magazine she said, "It's about time that we're given that respect! People don't understand the incredible strain that we put on our bodies on top of having to make it look so beautiful, do research, and become a character. I'm so unbelievably grateful, and honored to be there with some of these top athletes in the world."
Next on my reading list: Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland.
During her Women's Health interview she said, "Reviews can just consume you and it makes you just think these things are true that these people are saying… you just have to think that you're not going to make everyone happy." So true.
In a New York Times interview she said, "I had moments of doubting myself, and wanting to quit, because I didn't know that there would be a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level. At the same time, it made me so hungry to push through, to carry the next generation. So it’s not me up here — and I’m constantly saying that — it's everyone that came before me that got me to this position."
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