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5 times ABT ballerina Misty Copeland has broken boundaries

Misty Copeland is lighting up the internet with news of her new promotion. She will become the first female African-American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in 75 years. She has made history! Today marks a special day for the ballet community.

But this is not the first time Copeland has danced through the ballet’s color barriers, and it won’t be the last. Here are five other times she has stretched boundaries in her world and in the ballet world.

She actually became a ballerina. 

Copeland did not begin her career as a ballet dancer until she was 13 years old. She was encouraged by San Pedro City Ballet co-founder Cindy Bradley. At the time, she was living in a motel room with her mother and five siblings, not sure when she would get her next meal. They couldn’t afford for her to take classes, but Bradley gave her a full scholarship. Additionally, she progressed at an advanced rate. Famous ballerinas work their entire lives to become what Copeland became in only four. She moved to New York City at 17 years old to dance with the American Ballet Theatre. She released a memoir in 2014 describing her journey in becoming a ballerina.

She pushed limits of the ballet body.

Copeland explained in an essay for Self that at 21 years old, she was politely told that her “body was changing” or that she was too fat. She was 5’2” and 108 pounds. In the every day world, she would be considered extremely thin, but in her world, she was large. She became so self conscious that she started wearing t-shirts and shorts over her newly-altered leotards. Eventually, with the help of mentors and friends, she learned that her curves were part of who she was as a dancer, and she began to receive positive feedback again. “I think I changed everyone’s mind about what a perfect dancer is supposed to look like,” Copeland said.

Photo by Misty Copeland/Twitter
Photo by Misty Copeland/Twitter

She was the third African-American female soloist for American Ballet Theatre.

Before she made history as the first black female principal dancer, she was the third black female soloist for ABT. She became a soloist in 2007, just six years after joining ABT, as reported by NPR.

She was the first African-American to play Firebird and the first at American Ballet Theatre to star in Swan Lake.  

Firebird is a ballet focused on a magical glowing bird that can be both a blessing and a curse to its owner. Copeland obtained the role in 2012. She also wrote a children’s book about a young girl aspiring to be a ballerina titled Firebird. Copeland also had the privilege of playing one of the most coveted ballet roles ever with American Ballet Theatre. She premiered as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake earlier this year. Additionally, she was the first to perform in the first Swan Lake duo with ABT.

Her UnderArmour ad went viral. 

The inspirational ad, narrated by a young girl, received more than 8 million views on YouTube. The ad, with the tag “I will what I want” brought to attention all of the criticism Copeland received as a young ballerina, and then illustrated the successful dancer she has become.


About Meredith Rodefer

Meredith Rodefer is a freelance writer, who focuses on anything from lifestyle blogging to hard news, and dancer. Beyond Youth Independent, she has written for sites such as Natmonitor.com, CheekyChicago.com and FamilyFocusBlog.com. Contact Meredith: [email protected]