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Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland is an American ballet dancer. She was the first African American woman principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in 2015. She was born on September 10, 1982 in in Kansas City, Missouri.

Misty Copeland

Early life

Misty Copeland grew up in a single-mother household with several failed marriages that led to financial instability. Out of four children born to her mother, she is the youngest. Between the ages of 20 and 24, Copeland never saw her father. Her mother was a former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader and had studied dance. Although she is a certified medical assistant, her main work was in sales.

The year 1994 saw the separation of Robert and Copeland's mother. After living with several friends and boyfriends, DelaCerna moved in with her children into two small rooms at Sunset Inn, Gardena, California. Cantine convinced Copeland in 1996 to take a ballet class at the Boys & Girls Club. Cynthia Bradley, a close friend of Cantine, taught a ballet class at the Club once a week. Before participating, Copeland was a spectator in several classes. Dela Cerna permitted Copeland to attend the Club from after school until the end of the workday.

Bradley invited Copeland to class at her small ballet school, San Pedro Dance Center. Copeland initially refused the invitation because her mother was working 12-14-hour days, did not own a car, and Erica, her older sister, was working two jobs. Copeland started ballet lessons at San Pedro Dance Center when she was 13 years old. Cynthia Bradley was then picking her up from school. Copeland became a pointe after three months of training.

Copeland's mother informed her that she would have had to stop ballet. But Bradley wanted Copeland on the dance floor and offered to host her. Dela Cerna accepted this, and Copeland began living with Bradley and her family. Copeland won a national ballet contest at the age of 14 and was awarded her first solo performance. It was Bradleys who introduced Copeland to ballet. Copeland fell in love with Paloma Herrera (a principal ballerina of ABT) after she saw her perform at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. She was Copeland's idol. After only eight months of training, she was able to draw 2,000 people per show when she played Clara in The Nutcracker at San Pedro High School.

In 1998, Copeland participated in the San Francisco Ballet School's summer workshop. She and Bradley chose it, rejecting several other prestigious offers. Only New York City Ballet declined her a place in the program she auditioned for. Copeland was placed in the top classes during the six-week workshop in San Francisco. She was also granted full tuition plus expenses scholarship. She was offered a place as a full-time student after the workshop. Because of her mother's encouragement to return home and the possibility of receiving personal training from the Bradley Family, she declined the offer. She also had dreamed of joining American Ballet Theatre the next summer.


Misty Copeland grew up in a home with a single mother whose failed marriages led to financial instability. She was a young woman who moved along with her family to San Pedro in, California. Copeland's first experience with dance was as a member of the drill team in middle school. Her coach noticed her talent and recommended that she take ballet classes with Cynthia Bradley at the Boys & Girls Club. Bradley quickly saw Copeland's natural talent and recommended that she take classes at the San Pedro Ballet School with Bradley.

This happened at the age of 13, which is a little late for a serious career in ballet dancing, but she began nevertheless. Copeland moved into Bradley's home with her family when her training became more serious and efficient so that she could be closer to the studio and didn't have to waste time traveling. At age 15, she was awarded first prize in ballet at the Los Angeles Music Centre Spotlight Awards in 1998. She was awarded a scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet's intensive summer program that summer.

The same year, there was a custody dispute between Bradley and Copeland's mom, who at the time resided with her kids in the motel. Copeland returned to her family and started going to San Pedro High School. She continued her ballet studies at the Lauridsen Ballet Centre situated in Torrance, California. In 2000, Copeland was awarded a second full scholarship, this time for ABT's summer intensive program. In 2000, she was selected as ABT's National Coca-Cola Scholar.

In the middle of this summer, she received an invitation to be a part of ABT Studio Company, which is a special program for young dancers in training. Then, in 2001 she became a member of ABT's corps de ballet. She was the sole African American woman in a group of around 80 dancers. While she was often questioned over her differences, not just in skin color, but as well in body type, as she was always more full-figured than her fellow dancers (and often being reminded of it), she managed to climb the ranks due to her extraordinary talent. In 2007, she was the first African American female soloist in over two years (Anne Benna Sims, as well as Nora Kimball, were before her). Her notable performances include the main role in the show The Firebird (2012), and Gulnare in Le Corsaire (2013), among others.

The year 2008 was the time that Misty was awarded the Leonore Annenberg fellowship in arts, which is a two-year award that is bestowed upon artists of the next generation who have exceptional talent, providing the artists with additional resources to enable them to realize their full potential. She has performed a variety of contemporary and classical roles. Among her most memorable roles was playing the leading part in Firebird, made in 2012 using new choreography created by sought-after choreographer Alexei Ratmansky.

In December 2014, Misty played the leading part of "Clara" in ABT's production of The Nutcracker, also choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. In the autumn of 2014, she set a record by becoming the first black woman to play the lead part in "Odette/Odile" in ABT's Swan Lake. Misty returned to the role in the ABT's Metropolitan Opera House spring season in June of 2015 in addition to debuting with the character "Juliet" in Romeo & Juliet.

Copeland's inspirational story has helped her become a role model and a pop idol. In 2009, Copeland made an appearance as a model for a music video for the hit song "Crimson and Clover" by Prince. Copeland also sang live alongside Prince during his concert in the year that followed. Copeland was a vocal advocate for expanding the realm of ballet and ensuring opportunities for dancers from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

She was a member of the advisory committee for ABT's Project Plie, a program (started in 2013) providing training and mentoring to dance instructors in communities of diverse races across the country and within Boys & Girls Clubs. In 2015, the ABT selected Copeland as the inaugural African American female principal dancer throughout the 75 years of its history. In August of the same year, she made her Broadway debut as the character Ivy Smith in Leonard Bernstein's musical 'On the Town.

She was awarded induction into the Boys & Girls Club National Hall of Fame in May 2012 and also received the "Breakthrough Award" from the Council of Urban Professionals in April 2012. The award was presented to her as the National Youth of the Year Ambassador for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in June 2013. She was awarded the Young, Gifted & Black award during the 13th Annual Black Girls Rock Awards.

Copeland's feature film debut was made in 2018 through The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, in which she plays the ballerina's princess. It was a recreation of Tchaikovsky's ballet from the 19th century.

Misty has authored her New York Times Bestselling memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlucky Ballerina, co-written with award-winning journalist and author Charisse Jones. The book was released on March 14, 2014. She is also the author of an illustrated book called Firebird, co-written with award-winning Illustrator and writer Christopher Myers and published in September 2014.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Hartford in November 2014 in recognition of her work with classical ballet and for helping broaden the scope of the art form. In addition to her memoir, Copeland has written various other books which continue to inspire people across the globe. She continues to be a charismatic and inspirational personality.

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