Spotlight: Misty Copeland

This week's Spotlight Saturday focuses on Misty Copeland.

In a Degas inspired photoshoot for Harper's Bazaar

Misty Copeland was born on September 10, 1982, in Kansas City, Missouri. She was the fourth of six children born to Sylvia Delacerna. Her home life was hard; the family moved around a lot before settling in San Pedro, California. They lived with Sylvia's fourth husband, who was emotionally and physically abusive to both his wife and stepchildren.

Copeland took refuge in school, quickly developing a love for dance. The teacher who ran Copeland's drill team suggested that she take ballet classes. Eventually she went to Cindy Bradley, who immediately noticed Copeland's talents. Within a short period of training, Copeland was en pointe and showing great promise. At this point, when she was 13, her mother left her husband and moved the family into a motel. Delacerna and Bradley together decided that Copeland should move in with her teacher's family. This allowed her to continue her training uninterrupted, while also beginning to appear in public. These performances included a charity event staged by actress Angela Bassett, and the lead role in Debbie Allen's The Chocolate Nutcracker.

As a young ballerina in 'The Nutcracker'

When Copeland was 15, her mother suddenly demanded her return. A bitter legal battle ensued, with Copeland, backed by her teacher, attempting to receive legal emancipation from her mother. This bid failed, and under a police escort, Copeland was returned to her mother. But she was determined not to give up on her career. Having already attended a summer intensive at the San Francisco Ballet, courtesy of a scholarship, she attended another in 1999 - this time at American Ballet Theatre. In 2000, she joined ABT's studio company, and then moved into the corps de ballet the following year. In 2007, she was promoted to the rank of soloist, and was already well known thanks to her performances in such ballet's as La Bayadere, The Firebird, The Nutcracker, Sinatra Suite, and Bach Partita.

In Alexei Ratmansky's 'The Firebird'

Despite periods of rest due to several serious leg injuries, Copeland experienced a meteoric rise. In June 2015, after an extremely successful run as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Copeland was promoted to principal dancer. She is the first African-American ballerina to receive the title in ABT's history. That same year, she was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People, an extremely rare achievement for a dancer. Copeland is passionate about and has been extremely influential in changing public perceptions of ballet and inspiring more children to take up the art form.

Above: As Odette in 'Swan Lake'; Below: As Odile in 'Swan Lake', with James Whiteside

In 2015, she replaced Megan Fairchild for two weeks in the Broadway revival of Leonard Bernstein's On the Town. She has also had her own calendar, endorsement deals with COACH and American Express, a spot with Prince's Welcome 2 tour, a guest appearance on So You Think You Can Dance?, part of Under Armour's I Will What I Want campaign, and was part of President Obama's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. She has published both a memoir (Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, with Charisse Jones) and a children's picture book (The Firebird, with illustrations by Christopher Myers) which won an award.

In 'Le Corsaire'

In part of the Romeo and Juliet pas de deux and the White Swan pas de deux (I'm not sure who her partner is?):

Unfortunately there does not seem to be much footage of Copeland actually dancing on YouTube, other than some early performances, so here she is in 1997 in Kitri's Wedding variation from Don Quixote:

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Arthur Mitchell.

- Selene

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