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How Misty Copeland Became The First Afro-American Female Ballet Dancer

Ballet is a difficult art to master. It takes incredible strength and stamina to run, jump, and lift fellow dancers. What’s more difficult than building the strength and coordination is the ill feelings others may have towards a dancer.

The ways in which fellow company members choose to critique an individual vary from unnecessary advice on the form to pretty racist.

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Misty Copeland showed that nothing anyone said or did would stop her. At 17 years old, she joined the American Ballet Theater. She had finally achieved her dream, but couldn’t help feeling like she did not belong.

Members of the company made sideways comments about her appearance, suggesting she lighten her skin to look like a white woman. The young dancer didn’t know it at the time, but such things were commonplace for women of color in ballet. Whether it was her skin or their feeling of being threatened by someone younger, others thought that she did not belong.

Copeland proved she belonged by becoming the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, becoming the first African-American woman to do so. Her story began in a Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro, CA when she took her first lesson at the age of 13 while living from a motel room.

These hardships stayed with Misty and continued to motivate her to achieve her goals. But during her first few years, she felt alienated and with good reason. There was no denying her skill and grace on the stage. What the other dancers had a problem with was her skin, once hearing that she was too dark to perform in the second half of Swan Lake.

It was during the first three years of her career in ballet that were the most difficult for Misty. She uses her life experiences to teach and mentor other dancers of color and has responded to letters from aspiring dancers.

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