Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland
Born September 10, 1982 (1982-09-10) (age 29)
Kansas City, Missouri,
United States
Residence New York City,
United States
Nationality American
Ethnicity African American
Citizenship United States
Education San Pedro High School
Occupation Dancer
Employer American Ballet Theatre
Home town Los Angeles, California,
United States
Title Soloist

Misty Copeland (born September 10, 1982) is an American ballet dancer, described by many accounts as the first African American female soloist for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT),[1][2][3] one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States (along with New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet).[4] However, Anne Benna Sims and Nora Kimball, who were with the ABT in the early and mid 1980s respectively,[5][6][7] preceded her.[8] In this role as the third African-American soloist and first in two decades with ABT, she has endured the cultural pressure associated with it.[2]

Copeland is considered a prodigy who rose to stardom despite not starting ballet until the age of 13. By age 15, Copeland's mother and ballet teachers, who were serving as her custodial guardians, fought a custody battle over her. Meanwhile, Copeland, who was already an award-winning dancer, was fielding professional offers.[9] The 1998 legal proceedings involved filings for emancipation by Copeland and restraining orders by her mother.[10] Both sides dropped legal proceedings, and Copeland moved home to begin studying under a new teacher who was a former ABT member.[2]

In 1998, Copeland won the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award as the best dancer in Southern California. After two summer workshops with the ABT, she became a member of the Studio Company in 2000, a member of the corps de ballet in 2001, and a soloist in 2007.[11] Stylistically, she is considered a classical ballet dancer.[12] As a soloist since the autumn of 2007, she has been described as having matured into a more contemporary and sophisticated dancer.[13]


Early life

Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in the San Pedro community of Los Angeles, California.[11] She is of African, German and Italian descent.[14] Copeland is the youngest of Sylvia DelaCerna's four children from her first marriage. Her siblings from that marriage are Erica Copeland, Douglas Copeland Jr., and Christopher Ryan Copeland. She also has two younger half-siblings, Lindsey Monique Brown (a track star at Chico State University) and Cameron DelaCerna, one each from her mother's second and third marriage.[14] Sylvia DelaCerna, a former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader, had studied dance.[14]

At age eleven, she found her first creative outlet at a Boys & Girls Club wood shop class.[15] Copeland never studied ballet or gymnastics formally until her teenage years. However, she did enjoy choreographing flips and dance moves to Mariah Carey songs in her youth.[16] Copeland's natural presence and skill came to the attention of her drill team coach, Liz Cantine, at Dana Middle School in San Pedro.[10][14] She was first introduced to ballet in classes at her local Boys & Girls Club.[1][17] DelaCerna allowed Copeland to go to the club after school until the workday ended and Cynthia Bradley, a former working dancer with companies in San Diego, Virginia and Kentucky, taught a free ballet class there once a week.[14] Bradley invited Copeland to attend classes at the small local ballet school, San Pedro Dance Center. However, Copeland initially declined the offer because her mother did not have a car, and her oldest sister Erica was working two jobs.[14][17] Copeland began her ballet studies at the age of 13 at the San Pedro Dance Center when Cynthia Bradley began picking her up from school.[11][17] Soon after she and her mother moved to a motel in Gardena, California they signed a management contract as well as a life-story contract, and Copeland moved in with Bradley.[17] She spent the weekdays with the Bradleys near the coast and the weekends at home with her mother,[10] a two-hour bus ride away.[18] By the age of fourteen, Copeland was the winner of a national ballet contest and won her first solo role.[18]

The Bradleys introduced Copeland to books and videos about ballet. When she got to see Paloma Herrera perform at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Copeland began to idolize her as much as she did Mariah Carey.[14] After three months of study Copeland was en pointe.[17] The media first noticed Copeland when she drew 2,000 patrons per show as she performed as Clara in the The Nutcracker after only eight months of study.[14] A larger role in Don Quixote and a featured role in The Chocolate Nutcracker, an African American version of the tale that was narrated by Debbie Allen, soon followed.[14]

When she was fifteen years old, Copeland won first place in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards and subsequently began her studies with Diane Lauridsen[2] of Torrance's South Bay Ballet at the Lauridsen Ballet Center.[11][19] The competition was held at the Chandler Pavilion on March 24, 1998,[20] and Copeland said it was the first time she ever battled nervousness.[2] The winners received scholarships between $500 and $2500.[21] Copeland's victory in the 10th annual contest among gifted high school students in Southern California[20] secured her recognition by the Los Angeles Times as the best young dancer in the Greater Los Angeles Area.[22]

Copeland studied at the San Francisco Ballet School after winning the Spotlight award.[11][17] While training with Bradley she selected the workshop with the San Francisco Ballet over offers from the Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem and three other companies.[10][14] As a student, Copeland had a 3.8/4.0 GPA through her junior year of high school.[19]

Custody case

"The dismissal of the emancipation petition accomplished Sylvia's main goal of keeping the family bonds intact and strong, without interference by third parties.... Another concern of Sylvia in filing a request for restraining orders was that she did not believe it was in Misty's best interest to have continuing contact with the Bradleys. In the sworn declarations filed by the Bradleys in response to the restraining order they said that "we have not and will never do anything to interfere with Misty's relationship with her mother.... Since Sylvia has accomplished all of the goals that she intended to achieve when she filed her papers with the court we have chosen not to proceed to seek an injunction in this matter."

Copeland lived and trained with Cynthia and Patrick Bradley for nearly three years, ending in 1998.[9][17] During that time she pursued independent study for tenth grade.[14][17] After Copeland returned from her summer 1998 San Francisco Ballet experience, her mother informed her that she would be staying with her and not resuming her study with the Bradleys.[14][17] Copeland was distraught with fear that she would not be able to dance.[10] She had heard the term emancipation while in San Francisco;[17] the procedure was common among young performers.[14] The Bradleys introduced Copeland to Steven Bartell, a lawyer who explained the emancipation petition process.[14][17] Copeland says she understood the process as a way to make everything better.[17] The Bradleys encouraged her to be absent when the emancipation petition was delivered to her mother.[17] Copeland ran away from home for three days and stayed with a friend.[10][17]

After her mother reported Copeland missing, she was told about the emancipation petition.[17] Three days after running away, Copeland was taken to the police station by Bartell, who filed emancipation papers.[10] Copeland's mother subsequently applied for a restraining order, which included the Bradleys' five-year old son who had been Copeland's roommate. The order was partly intended to preclude contact between the Bradleys and Copeland, but it did not have proper legal basis, since there had been no stalking and no harassment.[17]

In late 1998, a custody controversy occurred involving Copeland. The case was highly publicized in the press (especially Los Angeles Times and Extra),[17] starting in August and September 1998.[9][17] Parts of the press coverage spilled over into op-ed articles.[19] In the case, which was heard in Torrance in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, DelaCerna claimed that the Bradleys had brainwashed Copeland into filing suit for emancipation from her mother,[9][23][24] and DelaCerna, who was represented by Gloria Allred,[17] filed a series of restraining orders against Bartell, the lawyer who filed the emancipation charges on behalf of her daughter.[9] Allred claimed that the Bradleys had turned Copeland against her mother by belittling DelaCerna's intelligence.[23] The Bradleys were not intimidated by the suits and said they were willing to enforce the management contract, which gave them authority and rights to twenty percent of Copeland's earnings until she became eighteen,[17] via the legal system.[9]

After DelaCerna stated that she would always make sure Copeland could dance, the emancipation papers and restraining orders were dropped.[10] Even though she had dropped the temporary restraining order request, DelaCerna wanted the Bradleys out of her daughter's life.[22] Later in 1998, Copeland, who claimed she did not even understand the term emancipation, withdrew the request after informing the judge that such charges no longer represented her wishes.[18][22] Eventually, Copeland re-enrolled at San Pedro High School on pace to be a part of her original class of 2000 and began ballet study with Lauridsen Ballet Centre, although it was now restricted to afternoons in deference to her schooling.[14][17] Afterward, all parties appeared on Leeza Gibbons' Leeza show.[17] In 2000, DelaCerna stated that Copeland's earnings from ballet were set aside in a savings account and only used as needed.[19]

American Ballet Theatre

As of 2008, Copeland has been the only African-American woman in the dance company for her entire American Ballet Theatre career, nor is there a male African-American since the departure of Danny Tidwell in 2005.[2][25] In an international ballet community with a lack of diversity,[26] she is a rare African-American ballerina,[27] and although she has been shielded from several issues, she endures the difficulties of cultural isolation as the second African-American ABT soloist ballet dancer. Since she is often credited as the first African-American ABT soloist ballet dancer in the press, some describe her as the Jackie Robinson of classical ballet.[2] Copeland also feels that since the female dancer is the focus of the ballet, her role as a trail-blazing performer and role model has extra significance.[2] She is included in the 2004 picture book by former ABT dancer Rosalie O'Connor that is entitled Getting Closer: A Dancers Perspective (ISBN 0-8130-2768-3).[28] Copeland's performances with American Ballet Theatre are sponsored by Susan Fales-Hill.[1][11]

Early ABT career

Copeland auditioned for several dance programs in 1999, and each made her an offer to enroll in its summer program.[14] Copeland performed with the ABT as part of its 1999 and 2000 Summer Intensive programs.[29][30] During the summer of 1999, the topic of whether Copeland would stay if invited came up, and she responded affirmatively, although her mother insisted finishing high school was important.[14] During that summer, she was told that she would likely be invited to stay after she graduated in 2000 and by the end of the summer she was asked to skip her senior year and join the studio company.[14] Copeland returned to California for her senior year, even though the ABT arranged to pay for her performances, housing accommodations and academic arrangements.[14]

She studied at the Summer Intensive Program on full scholarship for both summers and was declared ABT’s National Coca-Cola Scholar in 2000.[11] In the 2000 Summer Intensive Program, she danced the role of Kitri in Don Quixote.[11][30] Of the 150 dancers in the 2000 Summer Intensive Program, she was one of six selected to join the junior dance troupe.[30] She joined the ABT Studio Company in September 2000, and became a member of its Corps de ballet in 2001.[11][31] As part of the Studio Company, which is the ABT's second company, she performed a duet in Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty.[32]

Corps de ballet

Early career reviews mentioned her as more radiant than higher ranking dancers.[33] As a corps dancer she had the opportunity to dance alongside her longtime idol Paloma Herrera.[14][34] Starting in 2003, she began to be favorably reviewed for her roles as a member of the corps in La Bayadère and William Forsythe's workwithinwork.[35][36] Recognition continued in 2004 for roles in ballets such as Raymonda and workwithinwork,[12][37][38] and the 2004 season is regarded as her breakthrough season.[12] In 2005, her most notable performance was in George Balanchine's Tarantella.[39] In 2006, she received a notable mention for her role in Cinderella,[40] and she was acknowledged for her meticulous classical performance style in Giselle.[41] That year, she also returned to Southern California to perform at Orange County Performing Arts Center.[42] Copeland's "old-style" performance continued to earn her praise until her promotion to soloist in 2007.[13]


Copeland was appointed soloist in August 2007,[17] which was announced in July 2007.[43] Standing at 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m),[44] she is one of the youngest ABT soloists,[3] and she has been a standout among her peers.[45] In the early fall 2007 New York City Center season, in which avant-garde ballets works were performed, she presented a Balanchine Ballo Della Regina role.[46] Her solo in this work was highly regarded although, as one of Balanchine's later works, Ballo Della Regina is not regarded as one of his best productions.[47] Her performances of Twyla Tharp works in the same City Center season were recognized,[48][49] and she was described as more sophisticated and contemporary as a soloist than she had been as a corps dancer.[50] As a corps member she had been recognized for prior performances of Tharp's work.[51][52] Her summer 2008 Metropolitan Opera House season performances in Don Quixote and Sleeping Beauty were well-received.[53][54]

In 2008, Copeland won the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Arts, which funds study with master teachers and trainers outside of the American Ballet Theatre.[55] 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".[56] During the 2008–09 season, she received publicity for roles in Twyla Tharp's Baker's Dozen and Paul Taylor's Company B.[57][58]

In March 2009, Copeland spent two days in Los Angeles filming a music video with Prince, for the first single from his 2009 studio album Lotusflower, which was a cover of the "Crimson and Clover".[59][60] Prince caught her by surprise with a next-day invitation to participate in unchoreographed movements. She described his instructions as "Be you, feel the music, just move" and upon request for instruction "Keep doing what you’re doing".[61] During the summer, her Annenberg Fellowship resulted in training for her performance in Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux adaptation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake "Pas de Deux".[60][62] She also began taking acting lessons.[60] That fall, she performed in the ABT's first trip to Beijing November 12 –15. The six-performance engagement was the first by an American ballet company at the new National Center for the Performing Arts.[63]

In October 2010, she performed at the Guggenheim Museum to David Lang's music.[64][65] During the New York City and New Jersey portions of Prince's Welcome 2 America tour, Copeland took a few nights off from her 2010 role in The Nutcracker at Brooklyn Academy of Music and performed a pas de deux en pointe to "The Beautiful Ones" as the opening number at the Izod Center and Madison Square Garden.[66] Prince had previously invited her onstage at a concert in Nice, France.[67] Copeland was also featured in T-Mobile's ads for the BlackBerry in 2010.[68] In February 2011, in honor of Black History Month, Copeland was selected by Essence as one of its 37 Boundary-breaking black women in entertainment.[69] That same month, she toured with Company B, which performed at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London.[70] On April 13 2011, she performed alongside Prince on the Lopez Tonight show, dancing to the song "The Beautiful Ones."[71] Her Summer 2011 ABT performances were part of a new Alexei Ratmansky ballet as well as a reprisal of Giselle pas de deux.[61] In the Ratmansky piece, Copeland earned praise for her May and June Metropolitan Opera House performances: "Misty Copeland was a luminous, teasingly sensual milkmaid. I’ll never look at her the same way again,"[72] She performed Ratmansky to a Metropolitan Opera audience that included Black Swan star Natalie Portman.[73] She reprised the role in July at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles with a performance described as "sly".[74] As a flower girl, she was described as glittering in Don Quixote.[75] In August, she performed at the Vail International Dance Festival in the Gerald Ford Amphitheater in Vail, Colorado.[76]

While aspiring to be a principal dancer,[77] Copeland has numerous goals as a dancer, in terms of leading roles. She aspires to perform lead roles in Giselle, Nikiya and Gamzatti in La Bayadère, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet as well as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.[78] In September 2011, she was featured in the Season 1, episode 5 of the Hulu web series A Day in the Life.[79][80]


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