The American Ballet Theatre hired Misty Copeland when she was just 18.
I had never, ever, thought, I'm black, and no one else looks like me. At ABT, I realized, Oh, I do have this other thing that could work against me or for me. I always thought my talent would take me as far as I could go, and it was the first time I felt like maybe it wouldn't.
ABT's artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, says that her race was never an issue, but the need for her technique to come up to the necessary level. In 2007, however, he noticed “an edge that had been missing. I think the responsibility of her talent dawned on her.” In August of that year she was promoted from the corps.
Then she got the famous call from Prince asking her to collaborate with him; first for a video then on some dates during his Welcome 2 America tour.
I think he sees someone who's free and spiritual, and he's expressed that he doesn't see that in a lot of classical dancers.
So taken was he that he donated $250,000 to ABT!
Now Copeland will have a principal part in Alexei Ratmansky's new ballet, and will also reprise a signature pas de deux in Giselle. Ballet remains the primary focus for Copeland as well as Prince.
He has never said, ‘Don't look so much like a ballerina.' What's No. 1 for him is that I am a ballerina.
Photo: Mark Seliger
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
BUT MISTY COPELAND IS NOT THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRINCIPAL BALLERINA IN AN AMERICAN BALLET COMPANY. LAUREN ANDERSON WAS APPOINTED PRINCIPAL DANCER AT THE HOUSTON BALLET. SHE WAS IT. ABSOLUTELY AWESOME, EVEN WHEN SHE WAS IN THE CORPS DE BALLET. SHE NEVER LED ANY ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN ABOUT HER PROMOTION OR ABOUT HER MERITS OR ABOUT THE COLOR OF HER SKIN. MR. STEVENSON NEVER SAID MS. ANDERSON NEEDED TO RAISE THE BAR ON HER TECHNIQUE, SHE WAS A GENIUS; A POWERHOUSE, WHEREAS MR. MCKENZIE WAS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT ABOUT MS. COPELAND’S TECHNIQUE NOT BEING AT THE NECESSARY LEVEL FOR BALLETS SUCH AS SLEEPING BEAUTY, BAYADÈRE, ETC. PEOPLE HAVE A VERY SHORT MEMORY SPAN. MS. LAUREN ANDERSON WAS A TRUE BALLERINA.