Misty Copeland breaks barriers in ballet

Yoo Hoo. Earth to Suzy. You know, dear reader, how I like to be aware of cultural phenomena and of the Zeitgeist. Somehow I missed this one.

This week, let me introduce you to …

She’s African-American, once the object of a custody battle, multiple stepfathers, multiple childhood residences including a motel, zero knowledge of ballet up to her teens. This would seem an unlikely background for a prima ballerina. But Misty Copeland leapt across obstacles the way she leaps across a stage.

In June, Misty became the first black female principal dancer in the 75-year history of the prestigious American Ballet Theater. I just learned about her on NPR. (An advantage of living in the country: time to listen to the radio.) I checked her out on You Tube. Serious WOW. Watching her, I was riveted. She combines grace and athleticism in movements that are mesmerizing. Take a look at her ”I will what I want” commercial for Under Armour. She dances to a voiceover of a rejection letter she once received. No wonder this killer ad went viral.

Back story. Living in L.A., Misty followed her sister’s lead and became captain of her middle school drill team. With their mother away working (and eventually married—gulp—4 times), Misty and her siblings hung out after school at a Boys & Girls Club in L.A. In a turning point that was literally a turning pointe, her drill team coach sensed her dance potential. She introduced her to her friend, Cynthia Bradley, who taught a free ballet class at the club. Misty was shy, she told Diane Rehm. At 13, she hid in the bleachers. But Bradley took her under her wing. By age 14, Misty had won a national ballet contest. For a while, Misty lived with the Bradleys, occasioning the custody battle. The legal proceedings were dropped and Misty moved home. She began studying with a former ABT member. Thanks to scholarships, she completed her dance education, gratis.

At 32, this 5’2” superstar has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, profiled by 60 Minutes, played Odette in Swan Lake at the Met. Simon & Schuster published her memoir, Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. She danced in a music video, Crimson and Clover, and toured with Prince. In August, she’ll make her Broadway debut in “On the Town.”

Misty is aware of the role she plays in ballet history. According to the New York Times, she said, “I had moments of doubting myself, and wanting to quit, because I didn’t know there would be a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level. …it made me hungry to push through, to carry the next generation.”

Dance on, Misty. You may be petite, but your shoulders are broad. Brava!

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