Misty Copeland is the most famous ballet dancer in the world. Which means that throughout her career, she's had to consistently break down barriers. For background: Misty made history when she became the first Black female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. And now, her reach extends beyond the dance world through her books, philanthropy, and advocacy. Her new children's book “Bunheads” comes out this September.
On Finding Mentors
Carly: Did you seek out mentors or did they find you?
Misty: I think it was a combination of things. I definitely sought out Raven Wilkinson. But I felt like, because of the mentors that came into my life, I had an understanding of how to do that. But I think that you have to be open to receiving for them to even come into your life.
And that's something that I constantly am saying to young people… they can be right there in front of your face. But if you're not ready to accept the guidance, then it'll just pass you by. um And so, I think a big part of it was realizing that I needed help and I needed the advice and I needed more of a structure and a support system. And then once that happened, it just was a flood of amazing people, especially Black women, that entered my life.
On Her Upbringing
Carly: I want to talk about your childhood.
Misty: I mean, it absolutely shaped and formed how I saw the world and approached everything that I did.... My life was just constantly in motion and there just wasn't a lot of security. And so I think that it made me into the extremely introverted girl that I was. I was embarrassed about the way that we lived. We often didn't have a home. Struggled to put food on the table. My mother, ultimately, ended up raising us six children on her own…. I wanted in no way to stand out, which is pretty crazy that I ended up in this field where I'm out there, exposed, and performing for so many. But it was on my terms.
And so, when I could be a part of something where I could share my voice and my experiences without speaking, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I learned to be a survivor and I was just constantly in survival mode. So, stepping into the world of ballet, it was, like, peace and balance and security and consistency.
On Defining Her Purpose
Carly: When did you realize that there was more for you, that you had a bigger purpose?
Misty: I think that that realization of a bigger purpose wasn't directly connected to everything I'm doing now…. I think what people would assume when they see my success is that I've got this big team of people around me. You know, it was one Black woman [my manager Gilda Squire] who believed in me. And she knew nothing about ballet but she saw what I was doing and what my voice could do for so many generations. um The positivity behind my story and what I've learned and the tools that I've gained from being a part of this incredible art form.
I think that what she held onto and garnered was the authenticity of what I wanted out of all of this…. It started out with us sitting down at a coffee shop and her saying, "What do you want to say, and what do you want from your career?"
And I wanted to bring ballet to more people. That was the bottom line. And I want to diversify it. I want people to see and know that a Black girl can be a ballerina in a mainstream White company, and that was the root of where everything stemmed from.