Misty Copeland leaps past racial barrier in U.S. ballet

Tue Jun 30, 2015 7:37pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Misty Copeland on Tuesday became the first African-American female principal ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre in the dance company's 75-year history.

Copeland, 32, joined American Ballet Theatre in 2001 and has been a soloist with the prestigious company since 2007.

"I am so honored to be a principal dancer, to be an African American and to be in this position," an emotional Copeland, who started ballet at age 13, told a news conference.

The Kansas City-born dancer follows in the footsteps of Desmond Richardson, a black male dancer who was made principal with the American Ballet Theatre in 1997.

Copeland admitted having moments of doubt when she wanted to quit because she was not sure an African-American woman could make it to the top level in the world of classical ballet, which is dominated by white dancers.

"At the same time it made me so hungry to push through to carry the next generation. It is not me up here," she said. "It is for everyone who came before me, that got me to this position and all the little girls who can see themselves through me. It is giving them a brighter future."

Copeland, the author of a best-selling memoir, "Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina" and the subject of a documentary film, "A Ballerina's Tale," has been a supporter of diversity in ballet. She had also been open about her goal to be lead dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT).

"My dream has been ABT since I was 13," she said fighting back tears. "I'm excited to continue to grow as an artist and hopefully see more brown dancers come into the company in my lifetime."   Continued...

Dancer Misty Copeland arrives for the TIME 100 Gala in New York in this file photo from April 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files