Women’s History Month: Misty Copeland Becomes First Black Principal Dancer At ABT

In July of 2015, Misty Copeland became a living legend in the world of ballet and similar to Barrack Obama rising to the Presidency, possessed a drive and audacity that superseded the deepest systemic racism.

Let’s put her into perspective. She’s a Black world-class ballerina with her own Barbie Doll.

It doesn’t get anymore transcending than that.

She overcame incredible odds as a Black girl who started ballet at 13 (10 years later than most of her peers) and then worked her way up to becoming the first African-American principal dancer in the history of the lauded ballet company.

Copeland continues to inspire millions, embracing her standing as a barrier-basher, a Black Goddess in a white world of professional ballet.

“I was aware that I was black, but I wasn’t aware of the deep-rooted history of the lack of diversity, the lack of African-Americans in top companies,” Copeland told TODAY host Willie Geist in 2016. “It was like, it hasn’t happened for 75 years. Why would it happen to me? And then, at the same time, it gave me even more of this fire that was like, ‘I am carrying so many people with me and I can do this.”

The Shadow League story on Misty Copeland’s historical accomplishment (July 1, 2015):

Another barrier has just been smashed, this time in ballet.

American ballerina Misty Copeland, a long time distinguished dancer and star of Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign, has been promoted to principal dancer, the highest rank of the American Ballet Theatre. With this promotion, she becomes the first African-American female dancer to achieve that position in the company’s 75-year history.

The ABT announced many promotions on Tuesday, but this is by far the most significant one of them all, eliminating another barrier for dancers of color.

Now 32, Copeland joined the company fourteen years ago in 2001, becoming a soloist in 2007. One of her primary goals was to become the first black woman to be named a principal dancer at the company.

“My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company,” she wrote in her memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” published in 2014. “That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.”

Copeland took that goal, and responsibility to heart, garnering more attention and praise for her accomplishments, skill and dreams. Despite the criticisms- she didn’t have the right skin color, she didn’t have the right body type, she was too curvy, too muscular- she persevered and succeeded, eventually being named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people last year and earning a spot as one of the five covers for the issue. Her fame continued to grow and so did her fan base, the New York Times stating “her performances became events, drawing large, diverse, enthusiastic crowds to cheer her on.”

Her career parallels that of another trailblazer in a sport not traditionally thought of for Black athletes, Serena Williams and tennis. Her training, performance, skill and records speak to their greatness, and their acceptance as pioneers in their respective careers is something they take very seriously and to heart.

It’s no wonder she was the first African-American dancer to secure the lead role in ABT’s production of “Swan Lake, and fans were not the only ones who took notice and began to flock to see her perform.

Brands like Under Armour recognized her talent, impact, significance and position. The company featured her as one of the primary faces in their “I Will What I Want” campaign, generating over four million views on YouTube- in one week!

Under Armour gave their star a big congratulations through Twitter to celebrate the announcement:

The announcement was also posted to her Instagram account, where you can see the emotion in her face when the news was revealed.

Misty Copeland is a role model to many and with this latest news, her status, reputation and responsibilities have become even bigger. But after an almost 20-year career in the field, Misty is more than capable of handling the expanded responsibility of being recognized as the first African-American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater.

Congratulations to you Misty!

The Beat Goes On 

Misty is continuing to help others through her incredible journey. In May of 2020, as COVID-19 raged and changed the way we live, she joined The Child Mind Institute’s  #WeThriveInside campaign to speak about how she’s taking care of her mental health during the pandemic.

2015 will forever be the year when Misty Copeland changed the game for future generations of Black ballet princesses, so we had to commemorate the five-year anniversary in 2020 and celebrate her continuous efforts to help her celebrity teach and inspire young women of the world.


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