Misty Copeland

In honor of Black History Month, every day The Cardinal will feature a prominent and historical Black American, living or dead, who has worked toward change, advancement, and/or world peace. Some of them are heroes, and some are unsung heroes, who deserve recognition, and have made a contribution to society.


Paloma Ocampo, Editor-in-Chief

Misty Danielle Copeland  was born on September 10, 1982 and is an American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history.

Misty Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in the San Pedro community of Los Angeles, California. Between the ages of three and seven, Copeland lived in Bellflower, California.  When she was seven, Copeland saw the film Nadia on television and its subject Nadia Comăneci became her new role model.  Copeland was invited to attend class at her small ballet school, San Pedro Dance Center. Copeland initially declined the offer, however, because her mother did not have a car,

After studying ballet with Cynthia Bradley, at the age of 14, Copeland was the winner of a national ballet contest and won her first solo role.  At 15 years old, Copeland won first place in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards.  Two years later, in 1998, her ballet teachers, who were serving as her custodial guardians, and her mother, fought a custody battle over her.  After DelaCerna stated that she would always make sure Copeland could dance, both the emancipation papers and restraining orders were dropped

Copeland auditioned for several dance programs in 1999, and each made her an offer to enroll in its summer program.  By the end of the first summer, she was asked to join the ABT Studio Company. Her mother insisted that she finish high school, and so Copeland returned to California for her senior year, even though ABT arranged to pay for her performances, housing accommodations and academic arrangements

In September 2000, she joined the ABT Studio Company, which is ABT’s second company, and became a member of its Corps de ballet in 2001.  The professional pressure to conform to conventional ballet aesthetics resulted in body image struggles and a binge eating disorder  During her years in the corps, as the only black woman in the company, Copeland also felt the burden of her ethnicity in many ways and contemplated a variety of career choices

Early career reviews mentioned Copeland as more radiant than higher ranking dancers, and she was named to the 2003 class of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”  Copeland was appointed a soloist at ABT in August 2007, one of the youngest ABT dancers promoted to soloist  On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal ballerina in ABT’s 75-year history  Copeland’s achievement was groundbreaking, as there have been very few African-American principal ballerinas at major companies.

Copeland co-founded a fundraiser, Swans for Relief, which compiled videos made in May 2020 by 32 ballerinas from 14 countries, including Copeland, dancing The Dying Swan. The resulting YouTube video raises funds that will go to each dancer’s company’s COVID-19 relief fund, or other arts/dance-based relief fund, to alleviate the impact of the 2019–20 COVID-19 pandemic on the dance community.