People everywhere have been celebrating the news of Misty Copelands promotion to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, making her the first African-American woman to ever hold that role. With her now-famous muscular body, Misty had been told for years that she didnt have the right body for ballet. Instead, she broke a major barrier and proved everyone wrong.
A few years into her ballet career, she realized that it was rare for a dancer to be both curvy and black. But today she champions the fact that shes not wispy or pale and what it means that shes so close to the apex of the ballet world without being any of these things. I will always have breasts, she says. I will always be more muscular. I will always have brown skin. I will never look like the dancer next to me.
Over time, she started to feel more at ease, pointing out that she was, in fact, different from the other dancers there, especially when it came to the stage makeup ballerinas must wear. Id be wearing the same color pancake makeup as the white girl next to me, and it became a struggle within myself, she says. I learned to speak up and say I dont feel comfortable.
Had I had this very easy path, Id be a different person, she says. I talk about it because it hasnt changed. Until I can see America represented in the American companies, we have to have the conversation. The people who say, Oh, just let it go, they dont understand what it means for someone who looks like me to look at me and be able to see their future.”
Kayleen Schaefer for Yahoo! Style
Copeland had an unusual body: her shoulders were sloped, her legs were long, her knees were hyperextended, and she was effortlessly flexible and strong even as she was very slight. She was in the habit of entertaining her siblings (and slightly weirding them out) by linking her hands together, putting them over her head behind her ears, and then getting her elbows to bend in the wrong direction. She also had a natural ability to quickly memorize and mimic any movement she saw.
Rivka Galchen for The New Yorker
What an incredible, inspiring woman. It makes you think of all the people shell become a role model for, a whole new generation of girls and dancers. Who are your role models? I actually have a list of women written on my computer desktop that I look to whenever Im feeling shaky or need to remind myself of the right direction. They include Tina Fey, Nora Ephron, Anne Lamott, Pilar Guzman and other smart, strong women. Now Im adding Misty Copeland to the list.
What about you? Who are your role models?
P.S. 15 career tips from smart women, and what Ive learned in my career.
(Photos by Carlos Serrao for Under Armour; Emily Weiss for Into the Gloss; Jim Lafferty for Pointe Magazine.)