In a monumental moment for ballet, Copeland becomes the first female African American principal dancer in the elite company

By Sara Angle
June 30, 2015
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Big news in the ballet world today: Misty Copeland has been promoted to principal dancer with New York City's American Ballet Theater (ABT), making her the first female African American ever to reach this rank in an elite company. This historic moment for ballet will hopefully pave the way for more diversity, and allow Copeland to continue to inspire young ballerinas everywhere.

Just days ago, Copeland performed as the iconic Odette/Odile in the New York "Swan Lake," a role that is not only rare for an African American ballerina to have the opportunity to take on but also one of the most challenging roles in classical ballet-and she soared.

Whereas most professional dancers typically stick to the stage, Copeland has been actively spreading awareness about ballet to less traditional audiences for most of her career. She helped found the ABT's Project Plie, a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (where she took her first ballet lesson) to teach and scout ballet talent; performed outside of ABT for audiences that wouldn't normally set foot in the Metropolitan Opera House (she danced on stage with Prince!); and wrote an autobiography, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.

One of our favorite accomplishments of hers? Her participation in Under Armour's I Will What I Want campaign, which showcased her ridiculously strong muscles and incredible grace, cemented the fact that athleticism and artistry are both non-negotiable if you want to excel on stage. Futhermore, the campaign highlighted that her talented ballerina body was in fact not thin and flat-chested, but curvy, strong, and lean, proving that it's more about what your body can do than what it looks like.

Between her newest title at ABT and all of her extracurriculars, Copeland is the very definition of a strong, successful woman. Think about what she's overcome: Copeland grew up in poverty and has faced racial discrimination throughout her entire dance career. In a world where money and porcelain skin have historically aided a dancer's rise to the top, her success was tenuous at best. The boundary-breaking ballerina, though, has wowed the dance world since joining ABT's Corps de Ballet in 2001 at the age of 19 (and she only started dancing at the age of 13!).

Copeland has brought ballet some of the most positive exposure the art has seen in recent years. "I want everyone to feel that they could be a part of my world, if they want to be," Copeland wrote in her autobiography. Hopefully, with her new role as principal dancer, her story will continue to inspire not only other young African American ballerinas, but any dancer that faces difficult financial circumstances, or who has been told, like Copeland, that her body isn't perfect, and any one who dreams for something that feels impossible.