Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina is the revealing title of the bestselling memoir written by Misty Copeland. Copeland, 33, faced many challenges to become the star dancer and role model that she is today.
Copeland was late to learn about ballet. Growing up as one of six kids in San Pedro, California, her family didn’t have much money. Ballet “wasn’t something that was presented to me in my childhood or available in the communities that I grew up in,” Copeland told TFK.
When she was 13, she had the chance to take her first ballet class. It was held on a basketball court at a Boys and Girls Club. Most professional dancers start dancing when they are much younger. But the teacher recognized Copeland’s talent and helped her develop it. Copeland worked hard and learned quickly. In 2000, at the age of 17, she moved to New York City to dance in an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) program. ABT is one of the world’s top dance companies.
At ABT, Copeland was the only African-American woman in a company of 80 dancers. Her muscular build stood out too. “For so many generations ballerinas have been seen as these very frail, thin, white women,” Copeland says. It became important to her “to set an example that you don’t have to be that to succeed.”
Copeland spreads that message through her work and example. In June, Copeland became the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal, or top, dancer with ABT. Her memoir, children’s book, Firebird, and a new documentary about her life share her story and determination.
Copeland mentors young dancers to help them find their way. She is the ambassador for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year program. She also helps with programs that bring ballet to communities where it hasn’t previously been available.
President Barack Obama selected Copeland to serve on two committees—one focusing on fitness, the other on the arts. This year she received several awards. Glamour magazine named her a Woman of the Year, and TIME named her one of the 100 Most Influential People.
For overcoming challenges to reach her dreams, encouraging and enabling others to follow, and for blazing trails, Misty Copeland is a nominee for TFK’s 2015 Person of the Year.
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