Misty Copeland: “It’s Time”

Misty Copeland, whose openness about race in ballet helped to make her one of the most famous ballerinas in the United States, was promoted on Tuesday by American Ballet Theater…

……becoming the first African-American female principal dancer in the company’s 75-year history. 

Her promotion — after more than 14 years with the company, nearly eight as a soloist — came as Ms. Copeland’s fame spread far beyond traditional dance circles.

She made the cover of Time magazine this year, was profiled by “60 Minutes” and presented a Tony Award on this year’s telecast.

She has written a memoir and a children’s book, and has more than a half-million followers on Instagram.

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in “Swan Lake.” Credit Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times

An online ad she made for Under Armour has been viewed more than 8 million times, and she is the subject of a documentary screened this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Over the past year, whenever Ms. Copeland, 32, danced leading roles with Ballet Theater…..

…..her performances became events, drawing large, diverse, enthusiastic crowds to cheer her on at the Metropolitan Opera house, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

After she starred in “Swan Lake” with Ballet Theater last week — becoming the first African-American to do so with the company at the Met

…….the crowd of autograph seekers was so large that people had to be moved away from the cramped stage door area.

Photo Above: Fans of Ms. Copeland waiting at the stage entrance earlier this month. Credit Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times

Ms. Copeland, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was unusually outspoken about her ambition of becoming the first black woman named a principal dancer by Ballet Theater….

……one of the nation’s most prestigious companies, which is known for its international roster of stars and for staging full-length classical story ballets.


“My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company,” she wrote in her memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” published last year.

“That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.”

This put an unusual public spotlight on Ballet Theater as it weighed the kind of personnel decision that, in the rarified world of ballet, is rarely discussed openly.

ABOVE: Misty Copeland as Clara (Nutcracker Ballet, 1994)

If the company had not promoted Ms. Copeland, it risked being seen as perpetuating the inequalities that have left African-American dancers, particularly women, woefully underrepresented at top ballet companies.

Jane Hermann, a former co-director of Ballet Theater, said that it was an unusual dynamic for both the company and the dancer.

“I’ve never heard a public discussion of whether someone would be promoted to principal,” she said.

That race could still be such an issue in 2015 — and African-American dancers still so rarely seen at elite ballet companies — has been depressing to many dance goers,

…..and has led to impassioned discussions in the dance world and beyond about race, stereotypes and image.

More than a half-century has passed since the pioneering black dancer Arthur Mitchell broke through the color barrier and became a principal dancer at New York City Ballet in 1962,

……..and a generation has elapsed since Lauren Anderson became the first African-American principal at Houston Ballet, in 1990.

But City Ballet has had only two black principal dancers in its history, both men: Mr. Mitchell and Albert Evans, who died last week.

And Ballet Theater officials said that the company’s only African-American principal dancer before now was Desmond Richardson, who joined as a principal in 1997.

In ballet, principal dancers earn not only the respect of the dance world but they also are paid more, dance bigger roles and see their photos in programs, as well as their names in larger type.

Ms. Copeland last seemed on the verge of promotion in 2012 after a breakthrough performance in the title role of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” but was then sidelined by injury.

Ms. Copeland’s promotion was announced at a company meeting on Tuesday morning by Kevin McKenzie, Ballet Theater’s artistic director.

Three other dancers, enormously respected within the dance world but far less famous outside of it, were also made principals with Ballet Theater.

Stella Abrera, who has been a soloist with the company since 2001, was promoted, and two more principals were hired from outside:

Maria Kochetkova, a principal with San Francisco Ballet, and Alban Lendorf, a principal with Royal Danish Ballet.


Skylar Brandt, Thomas Forster, Luciana Paris, Arron Scott and Cassandra Trenary were all promoted to soloist, and Jeffrey Cirio, a principal dancer with Boston Ballet, will join the company as a soloist.

While Ms. Copeland has earned many good reviews when she has danced big roles, including some calling for her promotion,

….other critics have suggested that she still had work to do to make some classical roles fully her own.

When she danced the double role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” for the first time in New York last week, she did not do some of the bravura fouetté turns that are traditionally done……

……which critics forgave, but noted.

But she also established herself outside traditional dance circles with her books, advertisements and public appearances, and received help shaping her public image from her manager, Gilda Squire.

In last week’s “Swan Lake,” Ms. Copeland repeatedly got cheers that stopped the show.

Smartphones came out to record her curtain calls, and she was handed bouquets onstage by Ms. Anderson and Raven Wilkinson, who danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the late 1950s.

Afterward, a large crowd of fans seeking autographs and photographs were moved from the Met’s small stage door to a larger area nearby.

Little girls carried copies of “Firebird,” her illustrated children’s book. Several adults held copies of “Life in Motion,” the memoir she wrote with Charisse Jones.

The crowd cheered when she emerged from the theater. A man shouted: “Principal! Principal, Misty! Principal, dear!”

A woman called out, “Congratulations, Misty!”

Before signing autographs and posing for pictures, Ms. Copeland addressed the crowd in a quiet voice choked with emotion.

“Thank you so, so much for your support — it means so much to me to have you all here,” she said. “It’s such a special day for me, and for so many people who have come before me. So thank you for being here on this amazing day.”

Article copied word for word as was published in the New York Times


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5 Responses


I just happended upon this article looking up info on Black History month an find it very fascinating and gratifying to know that Ms.Copeland a woman of beauty and grace has exceled at her craft. Thanks for the article beautiful


Hi Charles Jackson,

Well spoken comment. Very captivating woman. I love going back over my Misty articles and looking at the photos. It’s like drinking a fine wine 🙂

~stay healthy~

Doug at Gaia Health Blog



Im an aramaic woman who watched while others danced due to lack of money for private classes but watched while my brother found that opportunity to explore dance and ended up in the New York City Ballet while living with the great coreographer Vilella.  I watch dance and instantly feel free of any binds, labels or lack of.  When I came across Misty I was simply reliving my childhood desire by watching any dancer I felt was just lovely and Misty expemplifys grace, beauty and strength.  Watching her perform is joy and fantacy and its finest.  Thank you for being so wonderful…Brava! Brava!


Misty Copeland, what a lady !


Hi Ron,

Simply put, but very Well Said!!!!

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment…..

Doug at GAIA Health Blog

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