Misty Copeland – The Trailblazing Ballerina

Success is not a destination but a journey! When we hear about success stories, a number of iconic personalities will spring to our minds. Most of us contemplate to these personalities as muses and get inspired learning about their journey. Talking about success stories, Misty Copeland is one great accomplishment to talk about.

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Misty Copeland is a successful ballet dancer and a proud author of two autobiographies about her journey. Moreover, she has also narrated a documentary that speaks about her career challenges. Not to mention, she was the first African-American woman promoted as a principal ballet dancer in the history of the American Ballet Society. Let’s have insight from Copeland’s life, career and journey.

Early Life

Misty Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 10, 1982. She grew with her siblings and her single mother in San Pedro, California. Copeland was introduced to ballet dancing right from her childhood. It was not until the age of 13 when Misty took up ballet into consideration. The graceful dancer is considered a prodigy who gradually rose to stardom with the profuse amount of talent she inherited from her mother. Due to her mother’s philandering habits, Copeland never received proper attention from either of her parents. After formally getting into a ballerina, Copeland’s ballet teachers became her custodial guardians in 1988. However, there was a custody battle over her between Copeland’s mother and ballet teachers when she was critically acclaimed.

There were emancipation files issued by Copeland, while her mother pulled restraining orders. This controversial chapter of the award-winning ballerina came to an end when both sides dropped off the legal proceedings.

In 1999, Copeland auditioned for several dance programs along with enrolling herself into various summer programs. Among these, she got a chance to perform at the ABT’s 1999-2000 Summer Intensive program. The Opportunity came knocking at her door when she was offered to join the ABT studio by the end of summer.

 Rising Career to Fame

During her initial ABT years, Copeland was the only black woman in the company. This kind of struck her confidence which made her doubt the ethnicity she belonged to. Simultaneously, Copeland faced body issues as a result of late puberty. Covered with self-consciousness, she was unable to focus on dancing and started doubting herself. The ABT company recognized that self-doubt was standing in the way of Copeland’s talent. Henceforth, the then vice-chair of ABT’s Board of Directors, Fales Hill was asked to mentor Copeland. 

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Overcoming the pitfalls, Copeland rose to glory challenging her inner self. Gaining perspective, the graceful ballerina became a radiant star in the leading years. In 2003, Copeland was mentioned in the famous Dance Magazine’s ‘25 to watch’ and was the most reviewed ballet dancer as well. She is well recognized for her roles in La Bayadère and William Forsythe’s workwithinwork even today.

Her other well-known works include Raymonda, Amazed in Burning Dreams, Sechs Tänze, Pillar of Fire, Pretty Good Year and Sinfonietta. Copeland was acknowledged for her performance meticulous classical performance style in Giselle in 2006. Copeland was chosen as a Soloist at the ABT in August 2007. Besides, she was the youngest woman promoted to the position of a Soloist at ABT. 

The rising to fame star was part of several musicals as well. Her notable performances include The Firebird (2012), Gulnare in Le Corsaire (2013), Swanilda in Coppélia (2014), and the dual lead role, Odette/Odile, in Swan Lake (2014). 

Principal Ballet Dancer

Success kissed Copeland’s feet when she became the principal ballerina at ABT. Additionally, she was the first African-American woman to become a Principal Ballerina in ABT’s 75 years history. On 30th June 2015, Copeland was allotted the position of Principal Ballerina. Her achievement was groundbreaking yet deserving. Until Copeland, there had been very few black principal ballerinas at major companies.

Next, the supremely talented ballerina was unstoppable. Copeland performed her debut broadway as the lead Ivy Smith on Leonard Bernstein’s musical ‘On the Town’, for which she was favourably reviewed. She gave fabulous performances in various roles in the following years. Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty, leads in Romeo Juliet and Harlequinade were her exemplary performances. 

Other Achievements 

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In 2008, Copeland bagged the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Arts. Her contributions to the field of Ballet helped diversify the art form. She also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hartford for her outstanding performances and contributions. In 2013, Copeland paved her way as the National Youth of the Year Ambassador by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. In 2014, she was granted the Dance Magazines award. The 38-year old ballerina has achieved numerous accomplishments at a young age. Copeland’s journey is truly inspiring and uplifting.

The pop icon appeared in a music video for the song ‘Crimson and Clover’ in 2009. Moreover, she has made appearances in several endorsements and TV shows. Copeland is also known for her autobiographies – Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina and Firebird. Apart from a successful ballerina author and instructor, Copeland has devoted her time into philanthropy as well. She co-founded the fundraiser Swans for relief in May 2020. It raises funds that go into several dancer company’s COVID-19 relief funds to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the dance community.

Misty Copeland is indeed a true inspiration for everyone. Overcoming her self-doubts and strayed childhood, she is a role model to many.

 Learning about her journey paints a message clearly – ‘Winners never Quit, and quitters never win!’


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