Misty Danielle Copeland is an American ballet dancer associated with the New York based company ‘American Ballet Theatre’. Regarded as an icon in her field, her formal introduction to ballet occurred when she was 13, on the drill team of her middle school. Acting on the recommendation of the team’s coach who recognised her natural ability, she joined dance classes run by Cynthia Bradley. She moved in with Bradley’s family when the training became more demanding. She won her first top prize in the ballet category of the ‘Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards’ in 1998. In the same year, she witnessed a legal battle between her mother and the Bradleys over her custody. In 2000, she received a full scholarship to the ABT’s ‘Summer Intensive’ program and was crowned ABT’s ‘National Coca-Cola Scholar’. In the following year, she was invited to be a member of ABT’s ‘Corps de Ballet’. Scrutinized throughout her career not only for her skin colour and ethnicity but also for her body type, she became the company’s first woman soloist of African American origin in two decades. In 2015, she became the first African American principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history.
Childhood & Early Life
Misty Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, on September 10, 1982, to Doug Copeland and Sylvia DelaCerna. She is of German, African American, and Italian descent. She has two brothers, Doulas Jr., and Christopher, a sister, Erica, one half-brother, Cameron, and one half-sister, Lindsay.
Her mother married four times, Misty’s father being her second husband. At three, she moved to California and that would be the last time she would see father for the next twenty years. She was raised in the San Pedro community in Los Angeles, California. Amid financial instability, Misty grew up moving from house to house of her mother’s various friends, boyfriends, and husbands.
Her interest in ballet began to bloom when she joined the ‘Dana Middle School’ drill team, and was promoted to captain, like her sister Erica before her. Seeing her inherent poise and talent, her coach Elizabeth Cantine referred her to Cynthia Bradley, who hosted a free ballet class once a week at the local ‘Boys and Girls Club’.
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Misty Copeland started attending the free class and a few weeks into it, Bradley asked her to join her local small ballet school, ‘San Pedro Dance Center’. After initially declining the offer, she joined the class at 13 years of age with her mother’s permission. Three months later, she was made en pointe. Only eight months into her lessons, she enthralled her audience with her performance as Clara in the school production of ‘The Nutcracker’.
Copeland started to stay with Bradley and her family after DelaCerna told her that she would have to quit ballet and Bradley convinced her mother to let Copeland live out of her household and continue training.
At the completion of her summer workshop at the ‘San Francisco Ballet School’ in 1998, she was offered a full-time student scholarship at the institution but she declined.
Due to the constant arguments with her mother about dancing and the Bradleys every time she returned home, Copeland filed emancipation papers to secure her legal independence from her mother. When she was informed about the petition, DelaCerna filed restraining orders against the Bradleys. The hearing took place ‘Los Angeles County Superior Court’. Eventually both cases were withdrawn and Copeland returned home.
She went back to the ‘San Pedro High School’ and graduated in 2000. Her mother also found her a new teacher in former ABT dancer Diane Lauridsen.
In 1999, Copeland enrolled in ABT’s ‘Summer Intensive’ program on full scholarship. She danced the character Kitri in ‘Don Quixote’ in 2000. Later that year, she became part of the ‘ABT Studio Company.’
In mid-2001, she suffered a lumbar stress fracture which put her off the stage for nearly a year. Despite being 19, she hadn’t gone through puberty yet. Her doctors put her on birth control pills, which resulted in her gaining 10 pounds, and her petite ballet dancer frame accumulated curves.
The ABT management was aware of the change in her physique. There was professional pressure on her to conform to typical ballet aesthetics. Thus she became depressed and developed an eating disorder. However, with the help of people close to her, she overcame the depression and eventually gained confidence in her body.
In August 2007, the ABT designated her as a soloist. In the ensuing years, She received praise for performances in productions such as ‘Ballo della Regina’ (2007), ‘Baker’s Dozen’ (2008), ‘One of Three (2009), ‘Birthday Offering’ (2010), and ‘Giselle’ (2011).
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In 2012, she had been dancing as an alternate lead in ‘The Firebird’ when she was side-lined due to six stress fractures in her tibia. She returned to the stage in May 2013 and performed as the Queen of the Dryads in ‘Don Quixote’.
Her appointment as ABT’s principal ballerina on June 15, 2015 was revolutionary, as there had been no black female principal dancer at a major international company before her.
Misty Copeland performed alongside singer Prince at the ‘Madison Square Garden’ to his song ‘The Beautiful One’ in December 2010. They had earlier collaborated for the music video of his cover of ‘Tommy James and the Shondells’ song ‘Crimson and Clover’.
In April 2015, Copeland danced as Odette/Odile in ‘Swan Lake’ with ‘The Washington Ballet’ at the ‘Eisenhower Theater’ in the ‘John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’.
She debuted on the Broadway portraying the character Ivy Smith in a production of ‘On the Town’ in 2015.
Awards & Achievements
In 2008, Misty Copeland received the ‘Leonore Annenberg Fellowship’ in the Arts, a fellowship to help her train outside of the ABT program.
She was conferred with the honour of being the ‘National Youth of the Year Ambassador’ for the ‘Boys & Girls Clubs of America’ in 2013.
She was among the few public figures selected by then president Barack Obama to be appointed to the ‘President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition’ in 2014.
In the same year, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the ‘University of Hartford’.
’Glamour’ magazine included her in their 2015 list of ‘Women of the Year’.
She won a ‘Shorty Award’ in 2016 for ‘Best in Dance in Social Media’.
Misty Copeland met her future husband, corporate attorney Olu Evans, in 2004 at a New York night club. After several years of dating, they married on July 31, 2016, at the Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach, California. Evans operates his dancewear company, ‘Muse Dancewear LLC’, out of their apartment on the Upper West Side.
In 2015, a documentary film was made on her life, titled, ‘A Ballerina’s Tale’, with Copeland providing the narration. The film premiered at the 2015 ‘Tribeca Film Festival’ on April 19.
She has written three books till date, including two autobiographies. She published her memoir, ‘Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina’, co-authored with journalist Charisse Jones, on March 4, 2014. Her second work as an author, ‘Firebird’, published on September 4, is a picture book with illustrations done by Christopher Myers. She and Jones worked together again on her second autobiographical work ‘Ballerina Body’, which was published on March 21, 2017.
Since her childhood, Copeland has been majorly influenced by Olympic gymnast Nadia Comăneci, singer Mariah Carey, and ballet dancer Paloma Herrera.