Dance Legends – Misty Copeland

Sometimes there are dancers that defy the system and push to the top on their sheer velocity and against all odds.  Even though I mostly write about ballroom and dancesport dancers, this dancer deserves mention because she inspires others to go the distance.  I am speaking of the American ballet dancer, Misty Copeland.  Misty is a ballerina for one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States, American Ballet Theatre (ABT).  There has been a lot of buzz about Misty lately because on June 30, 2015, Misty became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT‘s 75 year history.  That’s pretty outstanding.  On top of that, Misty was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time just the month before.

When people speak of Misty Copeland, it is always mentioned that she is considered a prodigy who rose to stardom despite not starting ballet until the age of 13.  When Misty was 15, her mother and ballet teachers who were serving as her custodial guardians, fought a custody battle over her. In 1998, Misty was involved in legal proceedings involved with emancipation rights against her mother and restraining orders by her mother.  It was quite a popular story at the time and got plenty of media attention.  The end result was both Misty and her mother dropped legal proceedings and Misty moved home to begin studying under a new teacher who was a former ABT member.  No matter who Misty would end up living with, it was clear that Misty had major talent and that she was an award winning dancer that the professional dance world more than noticed. She had many professional offers at a young age.

In 1997, Misty won the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award as the best dancer in Southern California.  After two summer workshops with the ABT, she became a member of the Studio Company in 2000, a member of the Corps de Ballet in 2001, and a soloist in 2007.  Misty’s style has evolved through the years from being considered a classical ballet dancer to a soloist from 2007 to 2015.  To date, she is considered a more mature, sophisticated and contemporary dancer.

When Misty was 14, she was noticed for drawing 2,000 patrons per show, as she performed as Ciara in The Nutcracker, after only eight months of study.  At the age of 15, Misty won first place in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards.  The competition was held at the Chandler Pavilion in 1998.  The winners received scholarships between $500 and $2500.  When Misty competed and won in the 10th annual contest among other gifted high school students in southern California, it secured her recognition by the Los Angeles Times as the best young dancer in the greater Los Angeles area.  Misty then left the L.A. area and studied at the San Francisco Ballet School.  Misty also received offers to train from the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre Dance Theater of Harlem and Pacific Northwest Ballet.  While studying at the San Francisco Ballet School which lasted six weeks, Misty was placed in the most advanced classes.  She was under full tuition plus expenses that her scholarship covered.  At the end of this workshop, Misty received one of the few offers to continue as a full-time student at the school.  She declined, as she had pressure from not only her mother but her teacher/guardians to continue her career in Los Angeles (San Pedro) which she did do.  In 2000, Misty studied at the Summer Intensive Program of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and became ABT’s National Coco-Cola scholar.  Of the 150 dancers in the 2000 Summer Intensive Program, she was one of six selected to join the junior dance troupe.  In 2001 she became a member of the Corps de Ballet.

In 2003 Misty was named Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch.”  In 2005, Misty’s most notable performance was in George Balanchine’s Tarantella.  In 2006, she received a notable mention for her role in Cinderella and she was acknowledged for her sensational classical performance style in Giselle.  Also in 2006, Misty returned to Southern California to perform at Orange County Performing Arts Center.  Misty’s “old-style” performance continued to earn her praise until her promotion to soloist in 2007.  Misty is 5 feet 2 inches and was one of the youngest ABT dancers promoted to soloist.  As a soloist ballerina, Misty’s career has proven to be expansive.   She has performed works of Twyla Tharp and Balanchine, she performs at famous places such as  the Metropolitan Opera House in well received productions such as Don Quixote and Sleeping Beauty.  This is only a small list of the many famous productions and famous places Misty performed at.  Misty has always been a standout among her peers.

Misty’s artistry and talent has led her to venture in other areas too.  In 2009, Misty filmed a music video with the recording artist, Prince.  She also began taking acting lessons.  That same year, she performed in the ABT’s first trip to Beijing.  The six-performance engagement was the first by an American ballet company at the new National Center for the Performing Arts.  In 2011, in honor of Black History Month, Copeland was selected by Essence Magazine, as one of its 37 Boundary-breaking black women in entertainment.  Also in 2011, Copeland marketed a dancewear line M by Misty.  She has also produced celebrity calendars. In 2012, she was seeking publication of two books: a memoir and an illustrated youth book.  Misty began achieving solo roles in full-length ballets rather than works that were mostly relatively modern pieces at this time.  In March 2014, Misty’s autobiography, “Life in Motion:  An Unlikely Ballerina,” was released. Also in 2014, New Line Cinema optioned “Life in Motion” for a screen adaptation.   That led Misty to be named to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.  She also became a guest judge for the 11th season of FOX’s, So You Think You Can Dance. That same year, the Oxygen network announced that it would produce a docuseries (reality series) under the working title, “The Misty Copeland Project” about Misty, as she mentors a master class of aspiring young dancers.  Misty has also been in many on air television commercials, all featuring her.  She has been on 60 Minutes and served as a presenter at the 69th Tony Awards.

As you can see, if you have talent and you keep your focus on what you truly want to achieve, it is possible to get that and a whole lot more!   Just ask Misty Copeland.

Thought Of The Week:

“Ballet…something pure in this crazy world”   –  Misty Copeland


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Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website