Although ballet fans never lack for darlings, rarely does a dancer become an old-fashioned star, one recognized outside the realm of people with nuanced opinions about the alternative endings to “Swan Lake.” But Misty Copeland, who is thirty-two, has not only performed some of the most coveted and challenging roles in classical ballet; she has also danced atop a grand piano during Prince’s 2010 Welcome 2 America tour and starred in a Diet Dr Pepper commercial, and, a few days before the “Swan Lake” rehearsal, was featured in a commercial for Under Armour that within a week of its release had more than four million views on YouTube. In the ad, a voice-over reads a rejection letter detailing why “the candidate” is not a good fit for ballet—the letter is a fiction, albeit one not unrelated to Copeland’s career—while Copeland, who is wearing a sports bra and underwear, slowly rises onto pointe. In chiaroscuro lighting that is usually reserved for boxers’ bodies, the camera focuses on Copeland’s substantial, sinewy musculature. “I Will What I Want” is the tagline; a billboard in SoHo features a similar muscles-and-determination image.
While it is disheartening to be reminded that product endorsement is the strongest measure of mainstream success, it feels good to see a woman who is doing more than being pretty become the kind of idol commonly associated with the stars of ESPN. Most ballerinas don’t have pensions, they rarely dance past the age of forty (injuries often end their careers earlier than that), and a soloist at A.B.T. earns between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand dollars a year. The great Anna Pavlova endorsed Pond’s Vanishing Cream.