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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.


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.

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