SUGAR PLUM FAIRY­TALE

The Amer­i­can dancer in Dis­ney’s new Nutcracker tells Will Pavia about her jour­ney from child­hood poverty to ca­reer riches and meet­ing Barack Obama and Prince.

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‘Iwas born breech,” says Misty Copeland. “I came out, like, folded in half, butt first.” We’re in the back of a black car that is rolling east through Man­hat­tan, and the bal­le­rina is talk­ing about why she was given her name. It re­ally is quite a name, made to be spelled out in lights. “Yeah, it’s weird,” she says. “All of my sib­lings have, I would say, or­di­nary names.”

She was the fourth of six chil­dren born into a poor, black fam­ily in Cal­i­for­nia. Her mother mar­ried and di­vorced three times and moved around a lot, even­tu­ally set­tling in a mo­tel where Copeland and three of her sib­lings shared a bed­room.

Now Misty is the most fa­mous bal­le­rina in Amer­ica and the first black woman to be a prin­ci­pal dancer in a lead­ing clas­si­cal bal­let com­pany. She is also “the bal­le­rina” in Dis­ney’s new live-ac­tion adap­ta­tion of The Nutcracker and to­day is head­ing to Queens, where she is to star in the first episode of the 50th sea­son of Sesame Street.

“I came early,” Copeland says of her birth, “so by the time my mom got to the hos­pi­tal

I was lit­er­ally hang­ing out of her. And she just wasn’t ready and she didn’t have a name for me ei­ther. And so I guess this hor­ror film, Play Misty for Me, was on in the hos­pi­tal.”

My ren­dezvous with Copeland, 36, be­gins out­side a build­ing on Broad­way. A new sea­son at Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre (ABT), where she has been a prin­ci­pal dancer for three years, is days away and she has to see a man about her knee, a doc­tor who spe­cialises in dance in­juries. Her man­ager, Gilda Squire, and her as­sis­tant are wait­ing out­side un­der scaf­fold­ing; the big black car is idling on the pave­ment.

Copeland comes out dressed in a dark hooded top and jeans, greet­ing us all cheer­fully and drag­ging a small suit­case. I of­fer to put it in the boot for her, mean­ing to be gal­lant, but it then oc­curs to me that she is prob­a­bly stronger than me. She could prob­a­bly break my arm.

She puts it in her­self and we set forth across town. I ask her about be­ing in the Dis­ney film

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