Misty Copeland opens up about her long struggle to stardom in the ballet world in an interview with Barbara Walters. Making the list of this year’s 10 Most Fascinating People, the pioneering ballerina made history just months earlier, as the first black principal dancer ever at the American Ballet Theatre.
The 32-year-old ballet dancer became the first African-American to be a principal dancer in the entire 75-year-history of the American Ballet Theater. That it’s taken so many years is astounding. But at last, it happened and the news of her appointment quickly went viral. In the months that have followed she has achieved international fame. She previously had drawn some notice for her appearance in an ‘Under Armour’ commercial and she was subject of a documentary, ‘A Ballerina’s Tale.’ Now she has found her place in ballet history.
In her candid, and highly personal interview with broadcast legend Barbara Walters, Misty Copeland opened up about the long journey she endured to reach the pinnacle of the profession.
Some of that was body shaming. She told Walters what it was like being told she didn’t have a “ballerina’s body.” She said, “I think it’s something that people say when they don’t want to say, “You have the wrong skin color for ballet.”
She detailed detail some of the criticism she had received, “My legs are too muscular. I shouldn’t be seen in a tutu. My bust is too big.”
She went on to speak of her upbringing, moving to California with her divorced mother, and moving numerous times and eventually winding up welfare hotel and living on food stamps. After starting ballet at age 13 at a local Boys & Girls’ club, she made astonishing progress, being on pointe within three months instead of the usual years it typically takes for a dancer.
She opened up about being invited by her ballet teacher to live with her and the family and said of it, “I don’t think I’d ever really been in an environment like that, that was very calm and structured, and it made me think, this is what is normal, and this is what I should have. I should have my own room. I shouldn’t have to sleep on the floor of a motel with my five siblings.”
She went on to speak of the custody battle that ensued between her teacher and her mother. This brought national attention as she and her mother made an appearance on ‘The Leeza Gibbons Show.’
She said of the public exposure, “It’s very hard. But I can’t do anything about that. I felt like I was being exposed. For all of these people to be finding out about my personal life on television, and I just wasn’t prepared for that.”
Later in the interview, she spoke of her early professional life, joining the American Ballet Theatre after high school and finally, many years later, her historic appointment as principal dancer. Asked if she had changed people’s perceptions, Misty Copeland said, “Yes, I do. I think that for a very long time, people put African-American dancers in a box, that they weren’t capable of doing classic ballet. Their feet were too flat, their legs were too muscular, they just didn’t fit the mold, and I think that I have changed that perception for a lot of people.”
And indeed it’s just the beginning. She’s been honored numerous times this year along, making TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people list, for being the trailblazer that she is. Sometimes it takes just one brave and persevering person, as we know, and our cultural history can be forever changed.
You can see Misty Copeland’s full interview with Barbara Walters below.