Last week I had the privilege to watch the documentary A Ballerina’s Tale on PBS. For those who are not familiar, it is the story about Misty Copeland- the first African-American female Principal dancer for the acclaimed American Ballet Theatre (ABT). ABT is one of the top ballet companies in the world and performing at the Metropolitan Opera House (MET) is one of the top venues for the performing arts. It is such an amazing accomplishment to be in the position she is especially as an African-American woman. She is definitely breaking down barriers as no one has done such a great feat!
The film briefly touched upon Misty’s childhood and her non-traditional dance training. Unlike most dancers, Misty started to take ballet at the age of 13. In dance years, that is very late considering I took my first dance class at the age of 3! To learn more about her childhood, I encourage you to read her book, Life in Motion.
At the age of 17, Misty moved to New York to join the studio company at ABT. She then had an opportunity to tour with the company. Misty talked about how she had such a hard time as there were days she would come home in tears. She said she felt so alone. I know from personal experience that it can be very lonely when no one expects or wants you to achieve. She also had no positive role models in the company. At that point it can be easy to give up. It can also make you doubt yourself.
Historically, ballet is built so much on tradition and traditionally, Blacks were not included in this art form.
One day I was watching a documentary on ESPN. It was talking about sports in the 1940s. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke barriers as the first African-American to play for a Major League Baseball team- the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, around the same time there were no Blacks in the
National Basketball Association (NBA). Ironically, the NBA had its first Japanese player- Wataru Misaka. That struck me because in the 40s, the United States was at war with Japan and they rather have a Japanese man than a Black man play.
Too often have I read the bios of dancers in top ballet companies and find a large number of people come in from overseas. Not that I am judging their motives, but I do question why they rather bring in talent from another country than a Black person from here.
Despite the hardships, Misty continued to work hard. After being in the company for two years, she was promoted to a Soloist. That in itself was big. It was then she had the opportunity to perform lead roles in major ballets such as Firebird and Swan Lake. These are roles that have never been performed by a Black woman and roles traditionally reserved for Principal dancers. This was basically unheard of!
On June 30, 2015, Misty was officially announced to be a Principal dancer for ABT. She has opened doors for so many little girls who hope to come after her!
However, her achievement is no walk in the park. There is a lot of negativity and many don’t like her presence. That was heartbreaking to hear. But I do encourage Misty to be strong and don’t give up!
Here is a preview of the film: