I am not well-versed on ballet. It was never really something that I took a personal interest in, in terms of participation, inspiration or entertainment and 22 years into my life, I’m beginning to wonder whether or not that’s because there was never any public cultural representation. I mean, even in movies and television the black ballerina was such a rarity that the idea of her existence almost appeared to be mythical. When you think about this, you have to think that I can’t possibly be the only other black woman who felt this way and that leads you on to thinking what this means for young black girls today who may not have even known that ballet was an option for them.
Well there’s a cultural shift within this form of art that is taking place as you read this. This week, Misty Copeland became not only the very first Black woman to dance Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House during American Ballet Theatre, she also became the very first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the 75 years that the company has been in existence. Misty, 32 years old, is making history and we must encourage ourselves to celebrate the barriers that she is tearing down for the young Black women that will secede her for years to come.
You can almost infer that Misty’s tremendous accomplishments this year were pre-destined, as she wrote before one of her performances in her 2014 memoir entitled Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina “Prominent members of the African American community and trailblazers in the world of dance who have seldom received their due are here tonight: Arthur Mitchell, Debra Lee, Star Jones, Nelson George . . . but I know I will also dance for those who aren’t here, who have never seen a ballet, who pass the Metropolitan Opera House but cannot imagine what goes on inside. They may be poor, like I have been; insecure, like I have been; misunderstood, like I have been. I will be dancing for them, too. Especially for them. This is for the little brown girls.”
The most beautiful thing about Misty Copeland’s experience as a Black ballerina is that she dances with intention, with lightness necessary to perfect the ballet technique, but also with the weight of knowing that it’s about far more than just her. Not only has she written a memoir, inviting us into her experience, but she’s also written Firebird, a children’s book for young girls looking to indulge in the world of ballet.
I am still not well-versed in ballet, but I am humbled through the process of writing this article knowing that I am able to look into it and see a young woman like myself with good, welcoming and inclusive intentions. I hope that we can urge ourselves to look to Misty Copeland’s experience as a push, a push in the direction of diversity within realms that seem to exclude certain groups of people, a push in the direction of living life with a certain awareness of who else we may be affecting, and a push in the direction of recognition for those who do exist within spaces that they don’t get any notoriety.
Congratulations Misty and thank you so much for merely existing.