A Chat With Misty Copeland (Originally posted 3/5/12)

 

There is something about Misty. For the last 2 years there has been a swell of interest and intrigue surrounding the petite, honey hued young woman from California who rose quickly through the ranks of the American Ballet Theater and landed firmly (some say too much so) at Soloist. She is currently poised to be the first African American female Principle dancer in the prestigious  75 year old company. Though she is not the first to rise to her current ranking (there was  Nora Kimball in the Mid ’80’s) she would be if  she reached the pinnacle of Principal. This may well be Misty’s time, as she is currently preparing for 3 Major Principal roles which may well determine whether she will reach her goal and make HERstory.

Misty Copeland in Le Corsaire. Photo: Marty Sohl, courtesy of American Ballet Theater

One of the things that people are fascinated with is her abundance of facility. When you see her in photos and on stage there is no mistaking her eye catching beauty, or the exaggerated presence of all of the physical attributes that the dance world moons over,  the hyper extended legs, the hyper flexible extension, the hyper supple feet and back. Everything about Misty’s dancer facility is Hyper or EXTREME, however she as a woman is contrary. She is pulled together, focused and a quiet force to be reckoned with. You don’t get to be a soloist a ABT without having some grit!

As beautiful as hyper mobility may be, the reality is that it takes a great deal of strength and mastery to manage it all. I wanted to hear how she dealt with it as a young dancer and what she does to maintain her body to keep it healthy and injury free. Her womanliness is also a running issue though only 5’2 and slight of build she has breasts, a booty, and muscular legs because of this she is considered “Curvy” in the world of ballet. I wanted to know what puberty was like for her? When her body begin to change? and how did she manage it? How did it effect her (the response  was very interesting). I wanted to know how she feels about her body today.

Then of course there is her “blackness” as it is one of the reasons why she has garnered so much attention, she will enters the Obama-like  territory of being a first. We spoke about the cultural isolation that she endures daily that is a part and parcel of being a ballet dancer of color. In the world of ballet you are often the only- or one of a few during your years of training, and should you dance professionally you are likely to be on your own. She speaks highly and often of her mentors and previous trailblazers (Raven Wilkinson) in whom she has found comfort, support, and strength (they did it and survived). This is a weight that most of her co-workers do not share.

The truth is she is just a girl who wanted to be a ballerina she didn’t set to be a pioneer in Pointe shoes. But she she is and she gets it- all of it, the importance, the history, the responsibility and expectations, and she is has taken it on, albeit she is very clear that this path she  is on is one her own, one she chose for herself, the rest is a cultural by-product.  She does it for her own personal reasons but accepts the cultural and racial “responsibilities” that comes with it: the spotlight, being a spokesperson, a mentor, a beacon of hope and possibility for young dancers of color etc.

Prior to our interview I had never met Misty though I had seen her perform. She looked much taller and very grand on stage I was taken aback at how petite and unassuming she was in person. I, being a black ballet dancer, and having my own experience of that world, have always felt concomitantly protective and responsible of and for her. Perhaps it is the knowledge of the isolation, and the coded inferences she experiences that makes me protective, even though I didn’t know her. I so wanted for her to be smart, and aware and on top of it, for the cause (one black power fist in the air)…

Well, let me tell you I had nothing at all to worry about, she is as magnetic and ebullient in person as she is on stage, she is delightful and though petite, she is powerful and self possessed, a woman, not a little girl. Her voice is strong but not loud, it is subtly commanding, she does not mince words, but is respectful and cautious with them. She chooses her words and tone very carefully. She is adroit at this, as these are skills she must not doubt use every day. She is clear, focused and grounded. She is confident yet humble and ultimately self defined. There is a great moment we shared (part 4) where she shares some experiences where I think she learned that you must know, and remember who you are, otherwise the words of others will  have the power to define you if you are not careful. I was awed by her generosity, that even in these very crucial moments in her career she steadily makes herself available to speak to youngsters to inspire and mentor, and has personally taken a handful of young dancers under her wing.

I went into the interview of course wanting to know how she has achieved so much in such a short period of time, but there was something in me that wanted to get a better sense of who she was as a woman, I wanted to humanize her, to make her more then the poster girl, or Youtube clip to the young dancers who idolize her facility alone. I wanted to present the totality of who she is because THAT is what makes her an artist… That’s it, I wanted to give voice to her Artist, I wanted to hear her story… and she shared with  me…

I have to thank her for that, her words her story will no doubt inspire, aid and encourage all who hear it.

 

I have to say that today I am not only a fan of Misty the Ballerina, but of Misty the Woman.

 

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

2 thoughts on “A Chat With Misty Copeland (Originally posted 3/5/12)”

  1. Caleb Mitchell (Houston Ballet – Corp de ballet 1998-2007)
    Artistic Director: Ben Stevenson, Stanton Welch

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