Life Stories #69: Misty Copeland

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Life Stories: Misty Copeland
photo: Gregg Delman

In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I talk to memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, Misty Copeland, a principal soloist with the American Ballet Theater, talks about Life in Motion, her story of how, in the midst of a chaotic home life in 1990s southern California, she was guided (not altogether willingly at first) into ballet training and discovered a true aptitude for dance. Despite the emotional turbulence of Copeland’s teenage years, as her mother and her ballet mentor fought over their competing visions of what was best for her, she persevered, and has become one of a handful of African-American principal soloists in ABT’s history.

One of the things we discussed was the hurdles that African-American dancers can face in being considered for the iconic roles of classical ballet, and how Copeland has made notable progress on that front, including a starring performance in Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite in 2012. It’s a problem similar to that actors of color deal with when casting directors simply “don’t see them” for characters who are thought of as “white” by default, and Copeland talked about how she worked up the courage to resist being pigeonholed in ways that would keep her out of the great ballerina roles:

“When you’re in a company as large as American Ballet Theater, with eighty dancers… You don’t come into a company as a young dancer and get a shot to do a leading classical role immediately. An easier way to break you into doing leading roles is to go the contemporary route. So that’s where I was pushed immediately, and they saw that I was really good at it, so I felt like I was being put in this position that I didn’t want to get stuck in. I saw myself as a ballerina, always, and it took me years to be able to say to the artistic staff, ‘Remember I’m a ballerina?’ I trained as a classical dancer; I didn’t train in any other form of dance. It took a lot for me to say that, but I’m happy I did.”

Listen to Life Stories #69: Misty Copeland (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

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8 May 2014 | life stories |