Why All Dancers Must Read the Books of Ballerina Misty Copeland

When Misty Copeland took on the role of principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre in 2015, she achieved what had never been before. She became the first African American woman in the history of the American Ballet Theatre to do so. It had taken 75 years.

Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World that year. She appeared on the cover, too. Balletomanes were thrilled. Historians were thrilled. People who’d seen Copeland dance wanted to see even more. Those who hadn’t yet, couldn’t wait to catch even a glimpse of this amazing woman. At the age of just 32, Copeland became the dancer to watch. To tell the truth, she is absolutely magnificent to watch.

There’s much to learn from Misty Copeland. In addition to her breathtaking performances, we can get to know much about her through her books. She’s written about her life in “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”. She’s written about body image in “Ballerina Body”, and teaches young dancers what might be possible in “Firebird”.

While many young dancers begin their formal dance studies when they are between the ages of three and five, Copeland had no formal dancing training until she was 13. Before that, she had participated in the Dana Middle School, California drill team. It was her coach, Elizabeth Cantine, who convinced Copeland to tray a free ballet class at the local Boys & Girls Club. Cynthia Bradley was the teacher there, and she was the one who picked up Copeland from school to take her to ballet classes at the San Pedro Dance Center. Bradley offered to host Copeland, creating a contractual program outlining her studies and living arrangements. Copeland’s previous idol, Mariah Carey, soon had competition, as Copeland embraced Paloma Herrera, an American Ballet Theatre principal ballerina. Copeland saw her perform at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and that was the beginning of a series of local performances which ultimately put Copeland into the media spotlight. She was on her way to stardom, even at a young age. The book “Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” chronicles her memoirs. It is co-authored with Charisse Jones, an essayist and journalist. Jones currently is a contributing editor for Essence magazine and a USA Today’s national correspondent. She was a staff writer for both the New York and Los Angeles Times.

This short documentary film tells the story of Copeland’s early life and includes clips of her early performances in California:

Misty performs en pointe for the first time in this video. There are three segments to watch, and she has solos in the last two:

Ballerina Body is a practical approach to eating and fitness. There was a time in Misty’s career when she struggled with accepting her own body. It affected her career at one time, because her feelings caused her to dance with less confidence, and her choreographers and directors noticed it. This book is a response to that and an effort to help others who are struggling with similar issues.

Misty discusses how she overcame her personal body image issues:

It’s not surprising that Misty would choose to write a children’s book about the Prokofiev ballet Firebird. It’s her signature role.  The book is filled with the language of encouragement. It speaks strongly to children ages 5 to 8, and includes images of an older dancer encouraging a younger one to pursue possibilities. Illustrator Christopher Myers has filled the book with portraits of Copeland dancing. Myers is a Caldecott Honoree. The combination of poetic text and dramatic artwork offer certain inspiration for young, aspiring dancers. The book won the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Book Award. It is a 2014 NPR Best Book, a 2014 Amazon Best Book, and the Best Children’s Book of 2014 for Essence Magazine.

Here’s Misty dancing in selected roles, including The Firebird:

Barack Obama appointed Misty to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. In this Time interview, “The Influencers”, they discuss race and body image together:

Kevin McKenzie, American Ballet Theatre Artistic Director, said it well when he spoke with Dance Magazine. He noted her “enormous versatility” and her ability to “listen, realize, and apply”. He described her as “a real representation of the American dancer”. He also said that Misty has earned all her achievements. She’s a sublime dancer and role model. What she has to say about dance and life can be found, in depth, in her books.

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