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Misty Copeland, who has been outspoken about race in the world of dance, has become the first black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre, a first in the top ballet company’s 75-year history.
The company’s artistic director Kevin McKenzie announced Tuesday that Copeland is expected to start her new role, along with the three other selected principal dancers, in August, the New York Times reported.
The 32-year-old ballerina, who spent the past eight years as a soloist, has worked her way through the ABT ranks for 14 years, eventually landing several plum roles, including the female lead in Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” in 2012.
In her memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” Copeland described her inauspicious beginnings, growing up in a low-income household and taking free ballet classes at the Boys & Girls Club at age 13, a late start for aspiring ballerinas. Despite the odds, ABT accepted Copeland into the company’s main Corps de Ballet four years later.
“I traced the marley floor with my pointe shoes, and imagine myself on the stage, not as a member of the corps, but as a principal dancer,” Copeland wrote in her memoir, published last year. “It felt right. It felt like a promise. Some day, somehow, it was going to happen for me.”
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Copeland’s promotion also advances a black dancer, who has openly discussed the lack of African-American representation within traditional dance companies.
Copeland told the NewsHour in August that her desire to be principal dancer was a long, arduous journey.
“The ballet world, I don’t think is an art form that is quick to change or to adjust or evolve,” she said, “ABT and most classical companies are about kind of following this slow and steady process of proving yourself and moving up through the ranks.”
That perseverance allowed Copeland to make history as ABT’s first black female soloist in 20 years. Copeland also inspired ABT to launch Project Plié, a national initiative to aims to diversify ballet’s traditionally white ranks.
Joshua Barajas is a senior editor for the PBS NewsHour's Communities Initiative. He also the senior editor and manager of newsletters.
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