Misty Copeland is one glass ceiling-shattering, badass ballerina. After constantly being told that she wouldn’t succeed — her body is curvier than the typical ballerina’s, and amazingly, even in 2015, the pervasive image of a ballerina is still very white — Copeland was named a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. This professional feat makes her the first African-American woman to hold that position in ABT’s 75-year history.
Here are 10 facts about her unlikely journey toward ballet stardom.
1. She’s a ballet prodigy who got a late start.
While most professional ballet dancers get their start before age five, Misty didn’t begin lessons (at a Boys & Girls Club) until she was 13. Five years later, she joined the ABT Corps de Ballet. Not bad.
2. She once tried to sing a Mariah Carey song at an audition.
A teenage Misty was caught off guard when asked to sing something during an audition for a Twyla Tharp show, and so she suggested a Mariah Carey number. The pianist prodded her toward a Madonna song, saying it’d be easier to sing.
3. She encountered racist taunts early in her ABT career.
She says: “There were comments about me not fitting in, that black women don't look right in tutus.”
4. She danced on tour and in a music video with Prince.
Misty’s appeal goes far beyond the ballet stage: She toured with Prince (dancing on a piano, no less), and has starred in Diet Dr Pepper and Under Armour commercials.
5. Misty was offered a spot in the American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company, but she opted to finish high school first.
She joined the Studio Company in 2000, as a high school graduate.
6. She danced her first Metropolitan Opera House performance with six stress fractures in her shin.
Talk about strength.
7. She’s poised to be a Broadway star.
Misty will play the role of Ivy in On the Town this summer, which will require her to dance, act, and sing.
8. People think her job isn’t work, despite the fact that she spends eight hours a day, six days a week practicing.
Misty told The New Yorker: “In social situations, people so often ask me, ‘So what do you do when you’re not performing — what is your job?’ I’m, like, ‘I have a job, I work every day, I’m in a union, we get overtime.’”
9. The beginning of her dance career coincided with sudden homelessness.
Misty’s childhood involved a lot of moving around and a cast of rotating father figures for her five siblings. At 13, her family moved into a single hotel room, where she slept on the floor. She calls it "the hardest time in my childhood."
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