We’re in New York visiting with famed ballet dancer, Misty Copeland. The ballerina, designer, author and activist made history when she became the first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Copeland opens up about how ballet offered stability amidst a chaotic childhood, and her mission to promote equality and diversity within the predominantly white profession. Plus, we visit with BE BOLD students in the Bronx, which is a free after-school program put on by The Misty Copeland Foundation.
Misty Copeland: Having a child earlier would have hurt career
Misty Copeland – the first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre – talks through the challenges of balancing a commitment to ballet with having a life beyond the art form. She says ballet companies question the level of commitment from ballerinas who attempt to have experiences outside of ballet and generally treat their adult dancers like children. Plus, Misty explains why she waited to have a child until later in life and shares the story of how actor Taye Diggs introduced her to her first boyfriend ever – and eventual husband – Olu Evans. The American Ballet Theatre principal dancer goes on to tell us how life has changed as a new mom, as Misty and Olu welcomed their son Jackson to the world earlier this year.
Misty Copeland: When will I retire?
Famed ballerina Misty Copeland offers up how ballet classes have kept her grounded, much like how yoga and meditation classes serve others. Now three years removed from her last live performance, Misty candidly reveals that she doesn’t quite feel “whole” due to the absence of the dancing in her daily life. The prima ballerina also explains how her pursuit of landing the role of principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre came to fruition later in her professional career and predicts a 2023 return to the main stage. She’s asked about her eventual retirement and responds with thoughts of acceptance and gratitude, envisioning that future performances will be more celebratory with intentions to give back to the community, rather than a pursuit of additional ballet milestones or honors.
Misty Copeland: Hiding pain of 6 bone fractures to break barriers
Misty Copeland – the American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American principal ballerina in its 75-year history – remembers pushing her body to the edge as she trained for a career-defining performance as principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. The famed ballerina remembers how her opening night performance at The Met brought in an atypical audience and several ovations, but then reality set in the next morning that the immense training had taken a toll – she later learned the pain she overcame was from six fractures in her tibia.
Misty Copeland: Intense ballet pressure pushed me to therapy
Misty Copeland – named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine – explains how her upward trajectory in the ballet community was met with resistance from its predominantly white industry professionals. She says the resistance spiked her anxiety and led to her seeking therapy from a sports psychologist. Plus, the prima ballerina takes us back to her childhood, including the influence of her mother Sylvia DelaCerna and when Misty spent weeks as a wallflower before mustering up the courage to engage at her first-ever ballet class.
Misty Copeland: Where are all of the Black swans?
Misty Copeland – named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine – takes us through encounters with racism and microaggressions throughout her illustrious career in ballet. Misty recalls dance companies forcing her to wear tights accustomed to white dancers, a makeup artist who planned to apply white powder to her face and more generally a shortage of opportunities and access for Black ballet dancers. Later, she talks of an impulse to run away from racial disparities and obstacles at American Ballet Theatre, but instead leaned into lessons learned from her mother.
Misty Copeland: Midnight escapes from mom’s abusers
Misty Copeland – the first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre – remembers how her mom’s rough upbringing carried into adulthood, marred by abuse and instability. The trailblazing ballerina shares poignant memories of escaping her mom’s abusers in the middle of the night, frequently couch surfing or sleeping on floors and trying to save a drive-by victim on her front porch. Plus, Misty explains how she got acquainted with her father, Doug Copeland, and why it was nothing like long-lost reunions portrayed in Lifetime movies.
Misty Copeland: It took 10 years before I could tell this story
Famed ballerina Misty Copeland looks back on her poverty-stricken childhood, as her mom applied for food stamps and they were living in a “dingy” motel. Misty says her mom could no longer support her passion for ballet, until Misty’s ballet teacher invited the dancer to live with her and her family, in an effort to continue dancing. Three years later, this household change came to a head as Misty filed for emancipation from her mom, out of a panic to continue training. It led to a court hearing that garnered national headlines, and a life-changing legal battle that took Misty a decade before she could bear to rehash.
Misty Copeland: Prince changed my life with one phone call
Misty Copeland – the first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre – remembers a whirlwind world tour as a featured dancer for the musician, Prince. She recalls how Prince spent a year looking for her, then finally connecting over a phone call, which led to Misty landing in L.A. just days later to dance on the set of Prince’s music video “Crimson and Clover.” The prima ballerina says her career at the time felt like it was at a standstill, as she graduated to soloist at American Ballet Theatre, but still questioned if she truly belonged in the world of ballet. During her extensive time with Prince, his words of understanding convinced her that there’s power in standing out as an individual… which is essentially the opposite message of what traditional ballet teaches.
Misty Copeland’s influence on Boys & Girls in the Bronx
We get the privilege of tagging along with famed ballerina Misty Copeland as she visits with a class of BE BOLD students in the Bronx, which is a free after-school program put on by The Misty Copeland Foundation. The 12-week program is designed to bring more diversity to ballet, while also offering a sense of community for children active within the Boys & Girls Club of America. The prima ballerina takes pictures with the young students and talks with them about how she was once in their shoes, attending her first-ever ballet class at a Boys & Girls Club when she was 13.
Misty Copeland: My abnormally normal feet
Famed ballerina Misty Copeland shares a few of the natural gifts that have aided her trailblazing ascension to the top of the ballet community, including her narrow feet, hyper-extended knees and innate ability to mimic movements of others. Plus, she walks Graham through a few of the basic ballet positions and he gracefully plies for the cameras.
A return to roots with trailblazing ballerina, Misty Copeland (BTS)
Here’s a peek behind the curtain of our time in New York with Misty Copeland, the trailblazing Black ballerina who got her start at 13 when she took her first ballet class at Boys & Girls Club. Graham jokingly downplays his excitement and Misty offers her review of their long-form interview.