Last week, the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York City promoted dancer Misty Copeland to principal. Copeland is the first Black woman to attain the level of principal (the highest level possible for a dancer) in ABT’s 75-year history. (ABT has previously had one Black man reach principal: Desmond Richardson, who achieved the level in 1997.) Since she’s considered a classical ballet dancer, this is all the more rare.
Copeland is considered to be a ballet prodigy since she began studying at age 13, and began dancing in pointe shoes a mere three months (!) later. She came to the larger public’s attention when she starred in the now-famous UnderArmour 2014 ad spot “I Will What I Want,” which featured her dancing. Since then, Copeland has written a biography and a children’s book, appeared on the cover of “Time” for their 2015 Top 100 list, and was the subject of a documentery, “A Ballerina’s Tale,” that premiered at the Tribeca 2015 Film Festival.
Copeland’s notable roles include the titular role in “The Firebird,” Swanhilda in “Coppélia,” and the dual roles of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake.” The “Swan Lake” roles were significant for Copeland, and the rest of the ballet world:
It was a symbolically significant moment in American arts, in which a black woman danced the role of ballet’s famed white swan—and sold out all of her performances from the moment tickets went on sale months earlier.