Not just arabesques: Misty Copeland im­parts her life lessons

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - AP Na­tional Writer

By Jo­ce­lyn Noveck

NEW YORK >> No other bal­let dancer has crossed over into main­stream pop­u­lar cul­ture quite like Misty Copeland.

That was Copeland at the re­cent Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards, danc­ing a pas­sion­ate duet with part­ner Craig Hall as Taylor Swift sat at the pi­ano singing her hit “Lover.”

She’s also work­ing on a new silent film with her pro­duc­tion com­pany, fo­cus­ing on home­less­ness in Cal­i­for­nia. And a Hol­ly­wood biopic is in the early stages.

Now Copeland, who leaped to fame in 2015 as the first black female prin­ci­pal dancer at Amer­i­can Bal­let Theatre, is the lat­est celebrity to host an on­line Mas­ter­Class, along­side Anna Win­tour, Aaron Sorkin, Annie Lei­bovitz, Ron Howard, Natalie Port­man and oth­ers.

Copeland sat down with The As­so­ci­ated Press re­cently to talk about the new se­ries and to look back at her ca­reer, in­clud­ing the time spent with one of her fa­vorite men­tors: the late rock star Prince, whom she cred­its with teach­ing her to em­brace her unique­ness rather than worry about blend­ing in. The in­ter­view has been con­densed for length.


AP: Your class is pri­mar­ily about bal­let tech­nique. But what else do you hope to teach?

Copeland: A lot of peo­ple don’t typ­i­cally look at bal­let dancers as ath­letes, and we are. And so those com­po­nents, you know, your men­tal health, your con­fi­dence, un­der­stand­ing and be­ing able to use your life ex­pe­ri­ences to be an artist. All of those ... ele­ments are just as im­por­tant as the tech­nique that we learn since we were chil­dren. You know, dancers aren’t just up there twirling around. It looks so ef­fort­less, be­cause we work at it for so long to make it look that way. But on top of it, you have to be an in­cred­i­ble ac­tress. You have to have an un­der­stand­ing of adapt­ing in the mo­ment ... you have to be very self­aware, present, vul­ner­a­ble, all these things. And so it was just as im­por­tant for me to speak about my life, my back­ground, the ob­sta­cles that I’ve had.

AP: Not many peo­ple can dance bal­let. What’s univer­sal about it?

Copeland: At the end of the day, we’re all hu­man be­ings. It’s al­ways been re­ally im­por­tant for me to be ex­tremely open ... I’ve learned more about my­self and grown, and I think other peo­ple can ben­e­fit. It’s so im­por­tant, I think, es­pe­cially for young kids

Misty Copeland in­vited cam­eras into the bal­let stu­dio for her new Mas­ter­Class, be­com­ing the lat­est celebrity to host the on­line teach­ing se­ries, join­ing the likes of Anna Win­tour, Aaron Sorkin, Annie Lei­bovitz, Bob Iger, Natalie Port­man and oth­ers. to have an un­der­stand­ing that they’re not alone in that celebri­ties and prin­ci­pal dancers re­ceive the same type of judg­ment or crit­i­cism.

AP: Some peo­ple think that once you danced the lead in “Swan Lake” in 2015 and then be­came a prin­ci­pal, ev­ery­thing was hap­pily ever af­ter.

Copeland: (laughs) Once I be­came a prin­ci­pal dancer, a lot of peo­ple looked at it like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s done. Like we’ve moved, we’ve grown, there’s no more racism in bal­let or in the world.’ We’re SO far from that ... and it’s been a tough jour­ney. When the spot­light’s on you and there’s just so much pres­sure for you to per­form at the top ev­ery sin­gle time you’re out there. So I went through a very dif­fi­cult time ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the crit­i­cism that I got (around) “Swan Lake.”

AP: You tell a story about be­ing dissed on­line at one point for not be­ing able to per­form the 32 fou­etté turns in a per­for­mance of “Swan Lake,” and do­ing a dif­fer­ent step in­stead.

Copeland: Yes, some­one filmed it in the theater and then posted it on YouTube. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of ridicu­lous hate on­line. But this was an­other level ... I’ve looked back at that clip of that show, and I re­mem­ber just be­ing dev­as­tated. But looking back, I don’t see any­thing wrong with it, you know? That (32 turns) was not even the orig­i­nal chore­og­ra­phy. I love to per­form, be­cause it’s telling a story through move­ments. So what­ever it is you’re do­ing, you want the au­di­ence to feel it, not just come to the theater ... and wait for 32 fou­et­tés that last like 30 sec­onds.

AP: In the class, you have a chap­ter on Prince, one of your most val­ued men­tors.

Copeland: When Prince first reached out to me, I just didn’t re­ally un­der­stand. I was com­pletely be­ing trusted to go on­stage with him, not even know­ing what I was go­ing to do. And it em­pow­ered me in a way that was shock­ing . ... He used to say to me, ‘Throw on these golden crazy boots.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m a bal­le­rina!’ He’s like, ‘No, you’re a rock star! You’re never go­ing to be this ideal im­age of what a bal­le­rina is. And that’s amaz­ing. Use your power, your unique­ness, and ... if it’s com­ing from an hon­est place, peo­ple are go­ing to love it.’ I feel like I grew in leaps and bounds from that time we spent to­gether.

AP: When you started danc­ing prin­ci­pal roles, there were sud­denly very di­verse crowds com­ing to ABT per­for­mances. Do you think that will last be­yond the “Misty ef­fect”?

Copeland: It’s for a big­ger pur­pose. It’s not like, oh, just come see Misty and then when she retires that goes away. For me, it’s (about) bring­ing in peo­ple that have not felt wel­comed or ac­cepted in these spa­ces. And I know once they’re in the door, they’ll fall in love with it. It’s in­tro­duc­ing the next generation, show­ing them that bal­let is still alive.

AP: You’re only 37, but bal­let is for the young. What do you see your­self do­ing 10 years from now?

Copeland: Oh my God. There’s no way I could tell you, even (what I’ll be do­ing) a year from now. When­ever I look back, I’m like, what? How did I end up do­ing all these amaz­ing things? How is this hap­pen­ing to this lit­tle peanut who was sleep­ing on the floor of a mo­tel at 13? Now I’m trav­el­ing the world and danc­ing on the most un­be­liev­able iconic stages, and just liv­ing this un­be­liev­able dream.

Copy­right 2019 The As­so­ci­ated Press. All rights re­served. This ma­te­rial may not be pub­lished, broad­cast, rewrit­ten or re­dis­tributed.


In this Nov. 19, 2019, photo, Misty Copeland poses for a por­trait in New York. No other bal­let dancer has crossed over into main­stream pop­u­lar cul­ture like Misty Copeland. Now Copeland, the first black female prin­ci­pal dancer at Amer­i­can Bal­let Theatre, is the lat­est celebrity to teach an on­line Mas­ter­Class.

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