The room filled with more than 2,000 attendees, listened in awe as Misty Copeland told stories of her childhood that preceded her skyrocketing journey into fame as the first African-American woman promoted to principal dancer for the prestigious American Ballet Theater (ABT).
Misty Copeland was the special guest at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s annual luncheon on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at the Colorado Convention Center. Luncheon goers were treated to a live interview conducted on stage by Foundation President and CEO, Lauren Y. Casteel as she talked with Misty Copeland about her experiences growing up in chaotic family circumstances, her racial barrier-breaking accomplishments, and her advice to young girls and their parents.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in San Pedro, California, Copeland began her ballet studies at the late age of 13. At the time, she was living in a shabby motel room, struggling with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor. Through her participation at the local Boys and Girls Club, she joined a ballet class. From those humble beginnings, she soared to new heights that most young ballerinas can only dream of. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year: a feat unheard of for any classical dancer.
At 15, she won first place in the Music Center Spotlight Awards. She studied at the San Francisco Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive on full scholarship and was declared ABT’s National Coca-Cola Scholar in 2000. Misty joined ABT’s Studio Company in September 2000, joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in April 2001, and in August 2007 became the company’s second African-American female Soloist and the first in two decades. In June 2015, Copeland was promoted to principal dancer, making her the firstAfrican American woman to ever be promoted to the position in the company’s 75-year history.
“Misty danced right through the racial, economic, and body image barriers that keep many women from pursuing their dreams and reaching their full potential,” said Lauren Casteel in her introduction of the ballerina. “Despite messages that she did not fit the mold of a traditional ballerina, she persevered and has become a symbol of hope, possibility, and perseverance for women and girls everywhere.”
Throughout the interview, Copeland inspired the audience with her grace and passion – her passion for her art as well as her passion to speak on behalf of all girls and women living out their dreams and in giving back. She has worked with many charitable organizations and is dedicated to giving of her time to work with and mentor young girls and boys.
In 2014, President Obama appointed Copeland to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. Recently, she inspired a new Barbie doll in the “Sheroes” collection that honors female heroes who break boundaries. An important part of her message is that ballerinas are athletes who work long and grueling hours to hone their bodies into performance ready mode. One need only to look at her lithe, muscular physique to imagine the hours she puts in everyday to maintain a body that can stand up to the rigors of performing classical roles such as Firebird, Romeo and Juliet, and Nutcracker. “It is time that ballerinas get the opportunities for branding and endorsements that their fellow athletes in other disciplines experience,” she tells the audience. Through it all, her hope is that she can promote exposure to classical ballet.
Editor’s note: For more information regarding Misty Copeland’s life and accomplishments, visit www.mistycopeland.com.