Misty Copeland Becomes First African-American Principal Dancer At American Ballet Theater

Misty Copeland Becomes First African-American Principal Dancer At American Ballet Theater
Ballet Shoes Kryziz Bonny / Flickr CC BY 2.0
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Misty Copeland was promoted to the position of principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater on Tuesday, becoming the first African-American ballerina to achieve the recognition in the theater company’s history.


The announcement was made along with several other promotions that saw Stella Abrera being elevated from soloist to principal dancer, as reported by CNN.

A video on her Instagram shows her reaction at the announcement.

32-year-old Copeland joined ABT in April 2001. Six years later, in August 2007, she became a soloist. In her memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” published in 2014, she spoke about her fears and desire of becoming the first African-American woman to become principal dancer at ABT.

“My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company,” she wrote. “That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.”

Copeland’s promotion comes six days after she played Odette/Odile in her New York debut, Swan Lake. At the end of her performance, Copeland was approached by African-American ballerinas of the past years. Over the last few years in the ballet, she has not only gained immense popularity but also a very rare pop culture status for a ballerina.

At a news conference, she said, “It hasn’t been overnight. It’s been 14 years of extremely hard work. … I’m just so extremely honored to be an African-American and to be in this position.

“So many young dancers of color stop dancing at an early age because they just don’t think there will be a career path for them. I hope that will change.”

Speaking about her own inhibitions when her 19-year-old self joined the ABT ballet corps, she said that there was no one “who looked like me.”

“I had moments of doubting myself and wanting to quit, because I didn’t know if there would be a future for an African-American woman at that level. At the same time, it made me so hungry,” she said, as reported by ABC News.

Copeland made an appearance as a guest host on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and also featured as a presenter at the 2015 Tony Awards.

Author and former editor of Dance Magazine, Wendy Perron, spoke about Copeland’s rise to fame and glory, saying, “We haven’t had a ballet dancer who has broken through to popular culture like this since Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“And she’s going to bring more attention from that world to ballet. We’ve waited a long time for this.”

Copeland was also outspoken about the traces of discrimination that exist in the American ballet.

In an interview with Elle magazine in May, she said, “There’s still racism in ballet. People make comments. For some people, I don’t look like a ballerina.”

According to USA Today, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in 2014.

Copeland started her dance training at the San Pedro City Ballet at the age of 13 years, and went on to study at the Lauridsen Ballet Center, San Francisco Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive on full scholarship.

Copeland is the first African-American ballerina, and the second dancer in the history of ABT – behind Desmond Richardson – to become the principal at ABT. Richardson held the rank in 1977-78, while returning as a guest star later.

At the TIME 100 gala in April, Copeland said, “Something that my mother instilled in me, as a biracial woman herself, and me being biracial, was that the world was going to view me as a black woman, no matter what I decided to do. I had no idea that that was going to be my truth at some point in my life, when I moved to New York City at 17 years old and joined American Ballet Theater and realized I was the only African American woman in a company of 80 dancers. I never saw a ballerina who looked like me before.”

She further added that African-American dancers like Raven Wilkinson have been her mentors, who inspired her to “try and open up the doors for the history of African American ballerinas that I feel is just not told.”

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