Misty Copeland is a celebrity in the ballet world. She started late (at the age of 13), and was groomed by American Ballet Theater where she currently holds the rank of soloist. And she is African American.
Her autobiography, Life in Motion, tells how the opportunity to receive ballet training came through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, how her family was poor, and how she was able to surmount numerous obstacles to rise to the level of ballet stardom.
Ms. Copeland receives a lot of attention because African American women are a rare occurrence in the world of classical ballet. That, coupled with the fact that she is a prodigy, creates an aura about her that is hard to resist. Racism is word that is common to the American vocabulary these days, and Misty Copeland’s allegations of racism within the world of dance rub some the wrong way. After all, the dance world has always embraced people of various ethnic backgrounds. She insinuated that the School of American Ballet did not choose her for their summer intensive because she was black. I’m not sure I agree with that. SAB is the most elite school in the nation, and for dancers auditioning in her age group, they demand near perfection in dance ability and body type. I daresay, she fell short in both categories at the time of her audition. That said, knowing that she had only two years of training prior to those auditions, and seeing what she had accomplished at that time, it was obvious to other schools that she was a prodigy. Both ABT and San Francisco Ballet School offered her scholarships.
I believe Misty Copeland received opportunities because she was a prodigy, but also because she was African American. She received a lot of attention and special opportunities that would likely not have been given her had she been a middle class white girl. That said, I did come to agree with her about certain aspects of racism that likely occur within ballet. Classical ballet is strong on tradition and artistic directors follow that tradition in selecting dancers. They really don’t care about the color of a dancer’s skin, but they do care what their body looks like. Misty Copeland is curvy, short and has extremely defined muscles. That is not the typical look of a ballerina. She challenged the artistic director of ABT one day to place her in classical roles as opposed to modern dance pieces. Thank goodness she spoke up and thank goodness the AD listened to her. A good artistic director will think outside the box and push the boundaries. And now ABT has a stunning black swan we can all appreciate.
3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2015