Play Misty for me
Ballet legend Misty Copeland has made history on the stage and is now warming up for her Hollywood debut.
Before you began ballet at 13, we’ve heard you had a thing for making up dance routines to Mariah Carey songs in your bedroom. So which was your favourite? It’s true. There’s a song called ‘Looking In’. It’s funny looking back on that song because it’s very deep. Mariah Carey did a great job writing amazing lyrics to really make you feel things. You had a special friendship with Prince. What’s your favourite memory of him? Oh, so many. I felt we were very similar in the way that we were confident in who we were, but at the same time both kind of introverts who don’t really become everything we can be until we are on the stage doing what we love. The first time I performed with him, it was maybe 2010 – at this point I’d only known him as my friend and had never seen him perform. Seeing him transform into this magical, mythical creature, I was like “Oh, that’s why he’s Prince!” You made history when you became the first African-american female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Were you surprised by the attention? Growing up as a bi-racial woman, being raised with my five siblings by my bi-racial mother, it was at the forefront of conversations that we had at home. I had an awareness of how the world would see me. Entering the ballet world, I felt like I had a leg up on a lot of dancers who haven’t embraced that they’re not like everyone else. I still experience discrimination; I don’t think there’s a black person in the world, especially in America, who say that they don’t. [But] it’s something that’s made me stronger. You argue that dancers shouldn’t succumb to body-image pressures… No-one wants to see the same-looking person lined up one after another. That’s something I am constantly trying to tell young people who I interact with – being you is so much more special and authentic. In 2015, you appeared on the cover of Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people in the world. Who’s been a big influence to you? Raven Wilkinson, an African-american ballerina who danced for the Ballet Russe [de Monte Carlo] in the 1950s. I first saw her in a documentary and I felt emotions that were so visceral. It was the first time that I felt this natural empowerment. I want to share stories like hers, and of other African-american ballerinas who don’t necessarily have the platform and opportunities I have. In your new film The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, you worked with some massive names, including Keira Knightley and Morgan Freeman. What was your biggest pinch-me moment? I think just the beginning, stepping onto the set. Everyone was so incredibly sweet. Keira was there and it was amazing to have time with her, just to be. We’re all normal people, which I kind of had to keep reminding myself. It’s like when young people meet me [and are starstruck]. I don’t want them to feel like I’m above them. We’re all human beings.
CENTRE (from top) STAGE Ballerina Misty Copeland performing with her friend Prince in New York in 2011; Copeland (centre) with Sergei Polunin in The Nutcracker And The Four Realms.