The unlikely ballet star Misty Copeland made history today, becoming the first black female principal dancer at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. She was promoted after 14 years with the company, with more than half her time there spent as a soloist.
Copeland, 32, who had long odds stacked against her, is credited with a resurgence of ballet in the public eye, drawing diverse crowds to performances and garnering a huge following on social media. She grew up poor, living in a motel with her single mother and 5 siblings, and started dancing at the relatively old age of 13. Her teachers noticed potential in her unusual body—a 2014 New Yorker profile noted that “her shoulders were sloped, her legs were long, her knees were hyperextended—which would later mesmerize audiences in “Swan Lake” and ”The Firebird.”
Copeland publicly stated her goal to become ABT’s first black female principal dancer (the black male dancer Desmond Richardson joined ABT as a principal in 1997). Aside from the prestige of becoming the principal dancer, her promotion means more pay, bigger roles, and more prominence in the promotion of performances, according to The New York Times.
She is an outspoken advocate of diversity in ballet, and emphasizes she very much wants to be a role model. In a video for Time magazine, which featured Copeland on its cover last year, she says she wants children to know that you don’t “have to be a white woman that’s rail thin” to make it in ballet.
An Under Armour campaign featuring footage of the muscular Copeland—narrated by a girl reading a fictional rejection letter from a ballet academy in which she is informed she had the “wrong body”—went viral last year: