First black prima ballerina for the American Ballet Theatre
"Misty Copeland is an American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT's 75-year history.
Copeland was considered a prodigy who rose to stardom despite not starting ballet until the age of 13. By age 15, her ballet teachers, who were serving as her custodial guardians, and her mother, fought a custody battle over her. Meanwhile, Copeland, who was already an award-winning dancer, was fielding professional offers. The 1998 legal issues involved filings for emancipation by Copeland and restraining orders by her mother. Both sides dropped legal proceedings, and Copeland moved home to begin studying under a new teacher who was a former ABT member.
In 1997, Copeland won the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award as the best dancer in Southern California. After two summer workshops with ABT, she became a member of ABT's Studio Company in 2000 and its corps de ballet in 2001, and became an ABT soloist in 2007. As a soloist from 2007 to mid-2015, she was described as having matured into a more contemporary and sophisticated dancer.
In addition to her dance career, Copeland has become a public speaker, celebrity spokesperson and stage performer. She has written two autobiographical books and narrated a documentary about her career challenges, A Ballerina's Tale. In 2015, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, appearing on its cover. She performed on Broadway in On the Town, toured as a featured dancer for Prince and appeared on the reality television shows A Day in the Life and So You Think You Can Dance. She has endorsed products and companies such as T-Mobile, Coach, Inc., Dr Pepper, Seiko, The Dannon Company and Under Armour.
On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal ballerina in ABT's 75-year history. Copeland's achievement was groundbreaking, as there have been very few African-American principal ballerinas at major companies. Debra Austin became a principal at Pennsylvania Ballet in 1982, and Lauren Anderson became a principal at Houston Ballet in 1990, the first black principal ballerinas at major American companies. According to the 2015 documentary about Copeland, A Ballerina's Tale, until Copeland, "there [had] never been a Black female principal dancer at a major international company".
Copeland next accepted the role of Ivy Smith in the Broadway revival of On The Town, which she played for two weeks from August 25 to September 6. Her debut on Broadway was favorably reviewed in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other media.
In October in New York, Copeland performed in the revival of Tharp's choreography of the Brahms-Haydn Variations, in Frederick Ashton's Monotones I, and "brought a seductive mix of demureness and sex appeal to 'Rum and Coca-Cola'" in Paul Taylor's Company B. The same month, she created the role of His Loss in AfterEffect by Marcelo Gomes, danced to Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence, at Lincoln Center. When ABT brought Ratmansky's Nutcracker to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in December 2015, Copeland reprised the role of Clara.
In January 2016, Copeland reprised the role of Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty at the Kennedy Center, choreographed by Ratmansky. Her spring 2016 schedule also included leads in ABT productions of The Firebird, La Fille Mal Gardee, Le Corsaire, The Golden Cockerel, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. In 2017, she appeared as a guest artist with La Scala Theatre Ballet when it visited Southern California.
In 2008, Copeland won the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Arts, which funds study with master teachers and trainers outside of ABT. The two-year fellowships are in recognition of "young artists of extraordinary talent with the goal of providing them with additional resources in order to fully realise their potential". In 2013, she was named National Youth of the Year Ambassador by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. In 2014, Copeland was named to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hartford for her contributions to classical ballet and helping to diversify the art form. Copeland was a Dance Magazine Awards 2014 honoree. After her promotion as principal dancer, Copeland was named one of Glamour's Women of the Year for 2015; one of ESPN's 2015 Impact 25 athletes and influencers who have made the greatest impact for women in sports; and, by Barbara Walters, one of the 10 "most fascinating" people of 2015. In 2016, Copeland won a Shorty Award for Best in Dance in Social Media." (1)