Misty Copeland is not only setting the 'barre' in ballet, she is breaking barriers for women everywhere!
Congratulations are in order for ballerina Misty Copeland! This week, the 32-year-old was announced the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, becoming the first Black ballerina to ever covet the role in the entire history of the company's 75 year run. For those who don't know, a 'Principal' dancer is used to refer to the member, male or female, with the highest rank within a dance company.
In short, Misty is a dancing diva aka "A Prima Ballerina version of a hustler."
And it wasn't easy. The Swan Lake star, who was raised by a single mother of six on welfare, is only the third Black female soloist in the history of the company, and the only woman of color at ABT since 2008. It's safe to say that she's conveniently blurring (and browning) the lines of the professional dance world. In her 2014 memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty wrote that it was crucial for her to break the color barriers of ballet not just for her own self, but for an entire race of people:
"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. That if I don't rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them."
Amazing. It's crazy to think that the girl who was told she was too 'old' to start ballet, is now being internationally recognized as the pop culture icon of the organization!
However, Misty hasn't only managed to pirouette and sashay her way to the top of ballet, she's also managed to two step and A-town stomp all over female stereotypes while in the process.
Check out a few ways Misty's promotion to principal is helping to change the limitations women in society often face based on age, sex and race!
1. Misty Has Helped to Further Redefine the "Idea Body" of Women
Basically- Misty's curvaceous frame has changed the ballet game in the same way Tyra's body changed the world of super modeling.
Standing at only 5'2 and a few inches shorter than the average height of a professional dancer, during her interview last year with FOX, Misty recalled a time where, at only 108 lbs, the company had insinuated that she'd needed to lose weight.
"They told me: 'Your body has changed. The lines you're creating don't look the way they used to. We'd like to see you 'lengthen.' That, of course, was just a polite, safe way of saying, 'You need to lose weight.' I was so embarrassed that all I could answer was 'I understand. I'd like to change this.'"
Growing up in poverty and living out of motels with her mother and five siblings, Misty recalled a time where she wasn't sure where her next meal would come from. As a result of living on low income, before Misty began dancing as a teen (by way of financial help from the trainers who viewed her as a dancing prodigy), she could barely afford to eat regularly, resulting in a slightly underdeveloped and slender frame that she took into her adulthood. By the time Misty was training professionally for ballet at 19- she hadn't even begun menstruation yet, but after fracturing a back bone during practice (a result of poor bone health), a doctor placed her on birth control to help regulate and stabilize her hormones.
"My doctor told me I needed to start menstruating because the hormones would help strengthen my bones, and he put me on the pill. "
Misty said almost immediately, her body caught up and filled itself into its intended size, gaining as much as 10 pounds in a couple of weeks, and experiencing an increase in cup size from a 30B to a D cup, even after she'd gotten off the pill. Via The New Yorker:
Within ten days, she began menstruating, and in a short time her figure changed from ballet-tiny to Marilyn Monroe. Her body, which at the start of her career had been considered perfect for ballet—she was said to have the “Balanchine body”—was suddenly no longer the ideal. “I was scheduled to do Clara, in ‘The Nutcracker,’ before that injury,” Copeland said. More than a decade passed before she was offered the role again.
Although she admits that she took the criticism of her curves and more muscular build to heart, even wearing t-shirts and shorts over her leotard to cover her bust and butt, Misty eventually said that she began to embrace her curves, and now clearly- so has the face of ballet!
This is major for all women since it debunks the myth that size can impede on our success or impose on our beauty. AKA: Misty's body being the face frame of ballet today is kind of a "big" deal.
2. Misty Has Helped Redefine Ageism in Athletics
Misty started ballet at the age of 13- that is about twice the average starting age for most ballerinas who go on to be professionals. This is because in our adolescent years, puberty tends to place our bodies into developmental overdrive, making it that much harder to be flexible and limber as our bodies undergo many new changes. However, despite the late start, the prodigy soon moved on to 'pointe' in just 4 months, catching her up to speed- and placing her ahead- of the peers in her age group. Initially, Misty was told her chances to do ballet professionally were slim to none.
Last year, Misty performed in an Under Armor Ad Campaign, where she danced to the reading of a rejection letter from a professional ballet company, that pointed out that 13 years old was too old to start ballet.
As women, we often compete and are compared to a timetable of success, mainly as a result of our biological clocks but time and time again, modern day women are breaking the stereotype of ageism, which makes what Misty has done for the face of ballet, sports and just women everywhere, so incredibly timeless.
3. Misty Has Helped Redefine the Look of the Ballerina
The daughter of a half African-American mom and an African-American father, Misty opened up to the TIMES once about embracing her race, while also accepting from an early age the adversities that comes with being a Black woman:
'Something that my mother instilled in me as a biracial woman herself, and me being biracial, was that the world was going to view me as a black woman, no matter what I decided to do.'
Misty's willingness to understand and accept some of the setbacks that often comes with being Black, allowed her to work above, and not against, the stereotypes placed on her. Versus getting wrapped up and distracted in the "why" of how society and ballet works in terms of race and gender, she decided to focus on the "how"- meaning how she can change that.
Sometimes the first step to change is accepting that things, no matter how fair, are what they are... until you become the change!
Congratulations to Misty on all her continued success and being an inspiration for young women and aspiring ballerinas everywhere!
Bonus: Mashable recently did an amazing feature titled, 'The Brown Ballerina Exists: Why We Need To Lift Her Up."
Catch the four minute mini-documentary that accompanied the feature on Page 2