In the world of ballet, there are few more coveted roles than those of a principal dancer. These are the ballerinas who grace the stage at the pinnacle of a performance, their movements so fluid and precise that they can appear as if they’re dancing by themselves. Look closely enough, and you might even see glimpses of beauty in this unearthly art form. But for many people, the visibility of ballet is more than its sumptuous dance sequences: it’s a reflection of racial oppression too.
With their lithe and graceful movements, ballerinas captivate audiences with the grace of their dance. It’s no wonder that more and more people are familiar with the art of dancing, thanks in large part to ballerinas. These dancers paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps—and now they’re inspiring a new generation of aspiring ballerinas as well.
There’s no denying that many African American ballet dancers have been pushed to the sidelines of the industry. Despite this, there are still some talented African American ballerinas who are finding success in their craft.
Ballerina is one of the most demanding and challenging jobs in dance. It takes extreme focus, coordination, strength, flexibility, and rhythm to master all of the complex movements that a ballerina must learn.
Many dancers find it hard to make it as a professional ballerina because they must perform intricate moves with perfect precision every time they step on stage. However, there have been some amazing African American ballerinas who rose above adversity and found their way onto the main stage of ballet companies all over the world. Check out these inspiring examples of African American ballerinas who danced their way to fame:
Misty Copeland, who was born on September 10, 1982, initially resided in Kansas City, Missouri, before moving to San Pedro, California, together with her mother and five siblings. Misty was surprised by how much she enjoyed dance just before joining her school’s drill team. Her talent impressed the team’s coach, who encouraged her to go to the local Boys & Girls Club and take classes. Cynthia Bradley, the ballet teacher at the club, noticed her and took her classes. While ballet dancers were already dancing at the age of 3 or 4 years old, Misty’s late start did not limit her talent. Since it was too far for her to travel to and from her residence, Cynthia Bradley and the San Pedro Ballet School gave her ballet lessons. The studio was also close to Cynthia Bradley and her family’s house. She lived there for three years after moving in.
Misty Copeland was accepted and rewarded a full scholarship at the San Francisco Ballet Summer Intensive program. Study with the company was offered after the program, but she declined it. She went to New York in 2001 and joined the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) after finishing a summer intensive programme with the company. Six years later, she became the ABT’s second African American female soloist. She spent 14 years with ABT before being elevated to principal dancer, becoming the first woman of colour to hold this position. She was recognised as one of Time Magazine’s “Most Influential People in the World” in the same year.
Outside of ballet, Copeland made use of her talent to create opportunities for herself. She published Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, her debut memoir, in 2014. Her fit body helped her land contracts with well-known brands like Estée Lauder and Under Armour as well as Dannon Oikos. She starred in Prince’s “Clemson and Clover” video, which received 4 million YouTube views within a week of its release, as well as in Madison Square Garden’s Prince show. Along with the late performer, she also travelled to Europe.
Raven Wilkinson, one of the first black women to perform for a major ballet company, inspired Misty Copeland to fight through any difficulties because she was inspired by the journey, work, and achievements of black dance pioneers, including her mentor. Wilkinson’s account of being separated from her colleagues and staying in “coloured only” motels while touring the South served as the inspiration for Misty Copeland’s children’s book Firebird.
Although Misty Copeland’s achievements to date won’t completely end racial and sexual discrimination in the ballet industry, she aims to set an example for young dancers by showing what is possible.
Misty was only named to Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in the world in 2018. However, she was also listed on Forbes’ list of Richest Self-Made Women in America with a net worth of $5 million. Her financial success is not something that she stumbled upon. It’s been a long road. Misty’s journey to the top began with hard work, persistent and relentless pursuit of her passion, and determination to succeed. She’s broken down the walls that have been in her way and climbed a long way to reach the top. Misty was humble and unassuming in her early days. She was focused on her craft and was not bothered by the media attention. She was also not insecure about her looks. In her early days, Misty was a natural and fit dancer who was strong and artistic. So, she didn’t rely on her looks or personality to get ahead.
Misty Copeland wasn’t someone who was born with the wealth and privilege and DNA that would take her to the top. She overcame a lot of challenges to reach the top. But now, Misty is an inspiration for many people all over the world because she works really hard and perseveres even when things get tough. Misty Copeland isn’t someone who was born with the wealth and privilege and DNA that would take her to the top. She overcame a lot of challenges to reach the top. But now, Misty is an inspiration for many people all over the world because she works really hard and perseveres even when things get tough. Her story shows that with a lot of hard work and perseverance, you can rise to great heights and achieve great things in your life.