This Black History Month, I am sharing 28 stories of Black women who shaped me and showed me the way towards liberation. Because Black women are often not cited for their ideas, I thought this would be one way to give flowers to those who influenced me.
On Day 12, I would like to applaud dancer and author Misty Copeland for her trailblazing in the American ballet world. She was the first Black woman promoted to principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. Misty wrote a book to capture the history and legacy of Black Ballerinas, showing the world that Black Ballerinas are not an anomaly and have contributed to the world of ballet since the beginning. Her book was an act of love to ensure that the world remembered Black women and their contributions to ballet. (https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2021/10/misty-copeland-black-ballerinas-interview)
Misty Copeland was a late bloomer when it comes to dance. She didn’t start dancing until the age of 13, which is considered late, as most professional ballerinas begin dancing before they enter kindergarten. Her prodigious talent was discovered when she took her first dance class at the Boys and Girls Club in San Pedro, CA. She won a national ballet competition at 14, and went on to rise quickly, becoming a member of the corps de ballet of the ABT Studio Company at 19. When she first joined the company, she received negative feedback about her body and curves, which led to body dysmorphia and an eating disorder. Through self work, Misty was able to build her confidence and embrace her body, and has gone on to be one of the most celebrated dancers of our time.
When I was growing up, I took ballet classes 2-3 times a week. I wasn’t the best dancer - I have dyspraxia which makes it challenging for me to learn choreography. Despite that, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn and move my body to music. I’ll never forget the day when I was 14, and my ballet instructor pulled me aside and told me that I didn’t have the right body for ballet so it was time to hang up the pointe shoes and move on. I remember being absolutely crushed by that assessment. I stopped dancing and internalized the message that my black body was the problem. I wish I had an example like Misty Copeland, whose excellence showed that different bodies can create beautiful dance. Misty’s presence and success in the American Ballet scene has paved the way for thousands of young Black dancers through herfoundation which seeks to create pathways into dance for Black and brown children. (https://www.parents.com/kindred/misty-copeland-is-making-ballet-more-accessible-for-black-and-brown-children-through-her-new-foundation/)
Photo credit: VOGUE Taiwan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image Description: Misty stands with her right arm extended in front of a city landscape. She is a wearing a long sleeveless dress.