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IT’S MISTY COPELAND’S WELL-DESERVED TIME TO SHINE
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MOST PROFESSIONAL BALLERINAS begin training in the art at the age of three. Misty Copeland started when she was 13. But the dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) company has always been that square peg in a round hole.
Born Misty Danielle Copeland, the youngest of four offspring had a childhood filled with upheaval. Her mother married and separated from several men, moving her children around the country depending on who could house her and her brood. But the constant moving around did not dampen Copeland’s spirit. When she was training in her middle school drill team ‒ the equivalent of a cheerleading team in Singapore ‒ Copeland’s natural grace and fluidity caught the eye of her coach Elizabeth Cantine, who persuaded Copeland to attend ballet classes at the club where Cantine’s friend Cynthia Bradley was teaching.
“I remember putting my hand on [Copeland’s] foot, putting it into a tendu pointe, and she was definitely able to go into that position. She was able to go into all the positions that I put her into that day, but it wasn’t about that,” Bradley said in an interview with The New Yorker. “Right then, that first day, [I had this vision] of this little girl becoming amazing.”
Thus began a meteoric rise into the public consciousness, culminating in her achievement of being the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s history and being named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine last year.
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Copeland’s ascent to the top of her craft, however, was not without adversity. Her legal request for emancipation from her birth mother Sylvia DelaCerna was well-documented in the press, and while Copeland eventually dropped the case, it was only after heated arguments and constant battles before DelaCerna relented and agreed to let Copeland continue dancing.
Copeland also fractured the vertebrae in her lower back shortly after beginning her career in ABT at age 18, jeopardising what she had worked so hard for. She had to take birth control pills to induce menstruation, which gave her beautiful curves the envy of many women but made her body unsuitable for classical ballet. Add to that, she is an athletic black woman in a world dominated by skinny white females. Despite all this, Copeland has surpassed expectations, or rather, obliterated them.
In an age of frivolity and the Kardashians, it’s heartening to see a woman like Copeland become a role model. Who can forget her starring role in the Under Armour advertisement, promoting the firm’s I Will
What I Want campaign? The one-minute spot was a stirring call to arms, encouraging viewers to rise above vitriol and negativity to become who they’ve always wanted to be. Sure, it sounds cheesy but when you see Copeland’s trembling muscular calves rise en pointe while the voice of a little girl, presumably Copeland’s, recite the numerous reasons that ballet insiders gave for rejecting Copeland, you can’t help but feel your heart swelling. To date, the video has garnered 10 million views on YouTube.
Two months ago, Copeland posed in numerous photographs for Harper’s Bazaar celebrating Edgar Degas’ famous ballet paintings.
The shoot was done to promote an exhibition of the late artist’s works, ongoing right now at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
The paintings are beautiful, artistic translations of poetry in motion, and the photographs shot by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, even more so. Degas would be so pleased.