It’s all about mentoring, and the power of teaching from generation to generation. It’s the kind of sharing that makes families stronger. That’s the kind of relationship which young dancers experienced at the November 6 ballet class hosted on the Harlem Stage. It was “A Misty Copeland Ballet Class” and it was filled with the stuff of ballet dreams and legends.
The inspiring class took place on the Harlem Stage, and drew from aspiring dancers at the Harlem School for the Arts and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Thirteen students received Copeland’s technical instruction at the ballet barres. Carmen de Lavallade led center floor exercises focusing on the artistry possible when dancers use their bodies in relationship to music. Together, Copeland and de Lavallade offered a balanced and inspirational class, drawing on ballet skills developed through deep personal experiences. The class was an extraordinary moment in ballet history.
The class was held before an audience. Family, student’s peers, a few members of the public and the camera crew provided support and pressure. Following the class, Zita Allen of the New York Amsterdam News, led a moderated talk and questions from the audience. The topic at the forefront was how these legendary dancers overcame struggles to realize their dance careers.
Carmen de Lavallade, at 86 years, still carries her beautiful ballet physique and presence. She danced for famed choreographer Agnes de Mille, and ultimately forged an illustrious career with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She was inspired by her cousin Janet Collins, the first black ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera. Janet experienced times when she arrived at class and other dancers walked out because she was black. Collins was not taken for roles simply because she was black. At the time in ballet, black dancers were never taken. But Collins persisted, and eventually succeeded. Carmen followed, and became the next principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera.
De Lavallade told the audience that her own growing up time was filled with movement. She always knew that she wanted to become a dancer. She looked at Collins’ ultimate success and took that as her own personal inspiration to succeed.
Misty Copeland was discovered at the age of 13, and felt that ballet was the first time that she “fit in” as a black woman. While her story is currently fresh in the public mind, she is teaching the next generations to pursue their dreams. At 35, she focuses on the technical requirements of keeping her physical instrument in top form. She told the audience that she was inspired by a Raven Wilkinson documentary. Sharing the stories and histories of other black ballerinas is what she looks forward to doing more and more.
The wonderful sharing of stories from dancer to dancer is the magic thread that ran through “A Misty Copeland Ballet Class”. It’s a thread which has united black ballerinas through generations of dancing, and it is kept alive through the mentoring process.
This engaging short video documents the great black ballerinas, Janet Collins, Raven Wilkinson Carmen de Lavallade, Misty and other significant black dancers in spectacular career photos:
Misty’s phenomenal rise to ballet stardom is chronicled in this video spotlight: