As an 8-year-old girl, I stared in awe at the pixelated-pink-puffy tutus inundating my TV screen. Ballet seduced my soul, and I yearned to wear a dance costume of my own, to support my body on ten stubby toes, and to be art in motion. Subsequently, I enrolled in dance classes and achieved my dancing dreams; but for Misty Copeland, the journey was more arduous and marked by adversity.
For years I danced confidently, and at times haphazardly, to the beat of my own privilege. Conversely, Misty Copeland had to push through the conditions of a lower income household. Needing escape from a poor socioeconomic situation, Misty began her dance journey at the age of 11 at a Boys and Girls Club and later at the San Pedro Dance Center. Within months she began dancing on pointe, which is a technique that normally requires years of intense technical and strength training to acquire. I began my pointe career after five years of technique classes, despite being told I was not properly suited for dancing on pointe due to my poor foot flexibility. While Misty fought to accelerate her career, I fought to continue mine.
Interestingly, both Misty and I were told our bodies were not fit for ballet. Both of us have curvier forms, which are commonly frowned upon in the ballet industry. I coped with this harsh reality by eating drastically less and exercising intensively, hoping parts of my body would melt away and my feet would magically stay on the pointe shoe’s box, but fortunately, I grew out of my obsessiveness and danced for my own pleasure.
While both of us dealt with body challenges, Misty had an additional complication to rise above in the ballet world: her race. I am as white as Odette’s tutu in Swan Lake, but Misty faced some adversity as an African-American ballet dancer. However, Misty maintains a positive perspective on integrating cultures into a traditionally European art form. She recently told E! News, “I wanted to open the dialogue about race in ballet and bring more people in. It’s just beautiful to see the interest that has exploded for such an incredible art form that I will forever be grateful to!” At a young age, Misty even starred in “The Chocolate Nutcracker,” an African-American-centric adaptation of the classic The Nutcracker.
In 2001, four years prior to the inception of my dance career, Misty entered the American Ballet Theater’s Corps De Ballet, already holding the title of National Coca-Cola Scholar and member of the ABT Studio Company. 2001 was the same year the documentary “Living the Ballet Dream” was released, featuring dance students at the School of American Ballet in New York. This was the year Misty gained professional strides and I started to fall for the magic of ballet.
In 2013 I ended my dance career due to the strain it put on my body and my academics. Now, in 2015, Misty Copeland is the first African-American female Principal Dancer of the American Ballet Theater. She has become the new image of dance, and I am enthusiastic to witness her continue her journey as a trendsetter for modern ballerinas globally.