Thursday, July 2, 2015

Misty Copeland: dancer, author, trailblazer... basically everything

About two days before Misty Copeland made history as the first black woman to hold the position of Principal with American Ballet Theatre, I finished her book, LIFE IN MOTION: An Unlikely Ballerina.

The book was a very interesting read. I remember seeing Misty on the cover of Pointe in a yellow leotard about a decade ago when she was still fresh blood in the ballet world. Her book expands the snippets from that long ago article, her transient childhood, her very late start to ballet, her struggle to find her place as a black ballerina in a world obsessed with milk white swans. However, her book is filled with hope and reflection, not bitterness or righteous anger. It was a thoughtful read. I was occasionally confused with the way she chronologically jumped around but her story is inevitably intriguing.

I have an admittedly odd perception of ballet because I grew up as one of the only white girls in an inner city ballet company filled with black, Hispanic, and occasionally Korean dancers. It never occurred to me that a swan shouldn't be black or that you can't have big boobs and still rock a lead role. The first time I saw The Nutcracker (which was with this company), Clara, the Snow Queen. Sugar Plum Fairy, and her cavalier were all black as well as most of the party girls, snow flakes, and many other corps and soloist roles. But it wasn't The Chocolate Nutcracker that Misty writes about in her book, this was the classic story, the classical choreography and costumes but it was filled with racial diversity. For ten years that was all I knew. That was my ballet world.

In my teens, I started to follow professional companies and dancers but true to my white privilege I didn't notice the contrasting lack of diversity. Then Aesha Ash left NYCB because she couldn't make it out of the corps and I finally started to take notice. I love Misty's story, I love that she is breaking the preconceptions of what ballet is and who it is for. But I admit, I still struggle to understand why she has to break them. Why, in 2015, is this still a thing? She's a phenomenal dancer, a striking stage presence - of course she should be promoted to principal along with Stella Abrera who has also long toiled in hope of reaching the top. I really cannot fathom that it was ever a question that she shouldn't play Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, she is perfect for it.

Her book really got me thinking and despite its generally positive outlook, I found myself frustrated by her experiences of discrimination or just lack of understanding by her peers and fellow professionals. I love ballet and its traditions and its idiosyncrasies but I want the larger ballet world to like my microcosm. I want colorful ballet and I don't want it to be news. I want it to be normal.


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