“This is for the little brown girls.”- Misty Copeland, Life In Motion
From our place in the audience, Misty Copeland is the picture of perfection. As a soloist in the prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT) — the third African American female soloist and first in two decades — she is a vision en pointe, as she soars to impossible heights. But as with any success story, it takes a journey. In her best-selling memoir Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, the ABT soloist shares her Cinderella story, from a timid young girl who was introduced to ballet in a local Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro, CA, to a stunning dynamo gracing billboards as the face of ABT in her career defining performance as “The Firebird.” As a painfully shy child, she strived for perfection to keep her rocky childhood hidden by being a people pleaser with a standard of perfection that lead to excruciating migraines.
MUST READ: Women In History: Misty Copeland
Misty found her stride and her steadiness through her love of dance and New York City, where her mixed identity was welcomed outside of the all-white dance studios. Most importantly, the prodigy dances with the dreams of the African American community on her shoulders, from the dancers whose promising careers were cut short by the threat of the Ku Klux Klan, to the little brown girls who dream of following in her footsteps as they tie up their first pair of pointe shoes.
Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina is a must-read for all women, from dancers to executives in the boardroom. If you have young daughters, stash this must-have on your bookshelf until they’re ready to discover it.
Based on dance’s traditional 8 count, here are 8 lessons from Misty’s inspirational story that will motivate you from any walk of life. In addition, we salute the African-American ballerinas who paved the way for Misty’s masterful reign.
Your past can make you stronger.
Misty opens up about her unstable childhood, when she spent her earliest years living in a motel in San Pedro with her mother and siblings. The constant shuffling and abrupt moves caused her to have debilitating migraines and stomach pains. A worrier by nature, Misty put her focus in hiding her unstable home life at school, by arriving early to class and keeping up excellent grades. Dance would become her escape, as she’d choreograph performances to Mariah Carey’s earliest hits. While the Copeland kids could have used their background as a crutch, they strived even harder to succeed. Excellence runs in the family, with Misty’s siblings ranging from lawyers to artists.
Embrace the criticism, not just the praise.
Although Misty was a latecomer to ballet, her innate ability to mimic choreography earned her the title of “prodigy” within months. The 13 year old had the athletic ability and the ideal frame that made her a choreographer’s dream. As she progressed, it was clear that instructors would not share the opinions of her earliest teachers. Always the fighter, Misty fought back by pushing herself to her limits. Her tenacity earned her a spot as the second African-American soloist in ABT’s history.
Choose a partner who makes you better.
A late bloomer with a fear of repeating her mother’s history of boyfriends coming in and out of her life, Misty focused on perfecting her craft and navigating her childhood, instead of dating. But when she met her boyfriend Olu, she found an anchor and support system. A lawyer, Olu helped Misty find her voice. Misty settled her nerves by rehearsing meetings she’d have with her artistic directors, when she knew she could handle prominent roles at ABT.
When Prince calls, you answer!
Misty has been a bonafide ballet staple for over a decade, but Prince introduced her to music lovers. In his shy and mysterious way, Prince invited Misty to dance in his “Welcome To America” tour. By trusting her expertise as a ballerina, he allowed Misty to step away from the meticulous critiques of her artistic directors, and into her own artistic prowess. The occasional phone call from the Purple One is something this fan can only dream of, so we’ll have to live vicariously through Misty on this one!