by Misty Copeland
I had never heard of Misty Copeland until just a few months ago. As my eleven-year old daughter is becoming more serious about her ballet studies, a friend of mine sent me an article about Misty Copeland, which intrigued me most of all because she’s a local girl, having grown up and discovered ballet in a town not far from us. I printed the article for my daughter, and she’s been enthralled with Misty Copeland ever since, watching YouTube videos of her dancing and being interviewed, Googling images of her, and reading whatever she can get her hands on, including Copeland’s children’s book, Firebird. So when I came across Copeland’s memoir, I had to get it.
Life in Motion chronicles Copeland’s chaotic childhood in and around San Pedro, California. One of six children, Copeland’s mother moved the children often, usually to run from or to different husbands and boyfriends. (I could relate very much to this, as my own upbringing was very similar.) Copeland was a people-pleaser and perfectionist by nature, painfully shy and self-conscious.
From early childhood, she found solace in dance, but was not introduced to formal dance until she was thirteen, when her middle school drill team instructor saw something special in her and suggested she check out the ballet class at the Boys and Girls Club Copeland attended after school each day. Grudgingly, Copeland did check it out, and felt very much a fish out of water. After that first class, feeling that ballet was not her cup of tea, she avoided the class for a while, until she was coaxed back by the ballet instructor, who also saw something special in Misty.
Long story short, Copeland was in pointe shoes within a matter of months after first being introduced to ballet, and deemed a prodigy. Not only is it almost unheard of to go en pointe in such a short amount of time, it’s also almost unheard of to get such a late start in ballet. Most accomplished dancers begin classes when they’re barely out of diapers.
Despite her initial disinterest in ballet, Copeland finds that ballet is, indeed, her passion and destiny. Over the next few years, ballet consumes her life, and she is sucked into a lot of family drama, including a bitter custody battle between her mother and Cynthia Bradley, her ballet instructor who believes that Misty has a future as a professional ballerina.
At the age of eighteen, within weeks after graduating from high school, Copeland moved to New York to participate in the American Ballet Theater’s summer intensive program, which would launch her on her professional career as a ballerina. Eventually, Copeland would become the first black soloist with ABT, the most prestigious ballet company in the United States, in twenty years. At the closing of Life in Motion, Copeland was still dreaming of one day being a principal ballerina with ABT, the highest level that can be reached. Copeland did achieve that title after the book was published, making history as the first black principal ballerina with ABT.
This is a Cinderella story at its finest. Having so many obstacles – near poverty, an itinerant and unstable childhood, a late introduction to ballet, and not least of all, being black – and achieving what Copeland has achieved is awe-inspiring. And hey, if you haven’t seen her dance, go look up some YouTube videos. She is jaw-droppingly talented.
I love, too, that my (white, privileged) daughter has chosen such a hero and role model. I gave her Life in Motion after I finished it, and she devoured it in a day and a half.
And she and I are going to see Misty Copeland in ABT’s production of The Nutcracker this week!