The new series “A Day in the Life” recently featured Misty Copeland, who is a soloist with the American Ballet Theater. Copeland is currently the only Black soloist at ABT and was for eleven years the only Black woman in the company. She’s also on track to become the company’s first ever Black woman principal.
“For Misty,” the narration of the episode notes from the start, “dance is more than just about performing. Being one of the only African American soloists has challenged Misty to not just be better at her craft, but also be an inspiration to girls who are just like herself.”
The episode features Copeland visiting a Boys and Girls Club to hang out with a class of Black ballet students, having a meeting about the line of dancewear she’s designing for curvaceous dancers like herself, and rehearsing at the Dance Theater of Harlem.
Ballet is an overwhelmingly white field – ABT, as far as American classical companies go, is considered diverse. And while there are some men of colour who have been able to break into the top ranks, women of colour are few and far between, in any rank. Black dancers are often encouraged, as Copeland notes in the episode, to choose modern or contemporary dance over classical, because they are more likely to succeed there. This is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy. And while the tradition of Black contemporary dance in America is an invaluable one – Alvin Ailey is one of the most exciting and important dance companies in the world, in my opinion – it’s high time that we had more people of colour in classical ballet, too.
Copeland is aware of the power of her position as a role model to young Black ballerinas. “It makes me really emotional,” she says of her visit to the Boys and Girls Club. “I see other girls that, it’s weird to say, but that have the same skin colour as me. Maybe they can see themselves in me, and I see myself in them. It’s a comforting thing, and hopefully I can motivate them, just seeing someone that looks like them.” Being the only Black woman at ABT for over a decade, she says, “I’ve kind of found my voice.”