[INTERVIEW] Black Ballerina Misty Copeland Makes History
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Another gift of naïveté you mentioned was that you didn’t experience nervousness when you danced because you were unaware of the magnitude of what you were doing. Now that you’re older and aware and the first Black soloist in 20 years, do you get nervous and feel pressure to be the best?

MC: I don’t know if I would call it nerves, but I’m aware and it makes you respond very differently on stage. I don’t want to call it pressure, but I feel like I have a lot to prove and that brings something out of me in front of a live audience that doesn’t even happen during rehearsal.

Every performance I give I want to be an example to the classical ballet word that it is possible for a black woman to be in this position and be the best.  I want them to see that there are no colors when it comes to this field.  I’m 5’2, so there’s not necessarily a certain height or size or specific ideas about who a ballerina is or what a person of color can do.

EBONY: You’ve mentioned that you were drawn to the American Ballet Theatre because this company is not as focused on body image or having everyone look and be the same. But have you ever experienced the very real body image issues that so many dancers face?

MC:  Well, ABT still has restrictions and a way you should look, but there have been many more diverse dancers from different walks of life in this company.  But across the industry, there are still very stringent weight restrictions and I don’t know if that is something that will ever change. Our bodies are instruments and these companies expect them to be fine-tuned.

Body image issues, racial barriers, there are so many things that come along with this field. On a daily basis, we put our bodies through so much in training and performing. That’s why I am so grateful to have been surrounded by amazing mentors. When I could’ve given up they kept me going. And in an art like this, amazing mentors are a requirement. 

EBONY: Recently, movies like Black Swan have brought a lot of attention to the world of ballet and the pressures dancers face.  Do you feel that movie was somewhat of an accurate portrayal of those pressures?  

MC: Not at all.  Many in the ballet world were actually extremely offended by Black Swan because it projects such a negative image of ballet dancers. When you’re in a prestigious company like ABT, there is obviously competition, but we have been together for years and we’ve become family. We’re not a bunch of people out to get each other.  That movie was made to make money, I understand that, but [that level of competition is] by no means anywhere near what we actually experience with each other.

EBONY:  You’ve done so many awesome things in your young life. What do you hope your legacy will be?  

MC:  I think Maya Angelou said it best, “People may not always remember exactly what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”  I hope that people who have seen me perform or seen an interview with me were moved and will remember a positive feeling.  I hope to set an extremely positive example for the young dancers I mentor and for the ballet world and I’d like to just continue to represent Black dancers well. I still have a lot more dancing left to do!

You can catch Misty performing in Le Bayadère, Firebird, and Le Corsaire starting in May at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

Brooke Obie writes the award-winning Blog DCDistrictDiva.com. Follow her on Twitter @DCDistrictDiva.