By Derrick Hemphill | Photo credit: Steven Schreiber
In her new book, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Touchstone, $25), Misty Copeland opens up about her rise from poverty to becoming the first African American female soloist in two decades with the American Ballet Theatre.
At 13 your ballet teacher and your mother signed a “life-story contract.” Was it apparent you were a prodigy?
From the moment that my teacher took me into her studio on full scholarship, she knew I had a career ahead of me. It was just a matter of whether or not I was going to last. There are so many kids at age 16 or 17 that decide that they don’t want it anymore. Everyone knew from the moment I stepped on to the stage this was going to be a special ride.
Does it bother you that there is an apparent lack of support for mainstream ballet from African Americans?
It’s about exposing the African American community and educating. I don’t think it’s because we don’t want to support. I think that it is what ballet has always represented. I want to educate our students through an initiative I helped launch, Project Pile, which aims at boosting diversity within ballet and opening doors for every type of student.
What compelled you to write your memoir at this point in your life?
This is the first time I’ve [addressed] my upbringing and personal experiences outside of ballet. It’s important for people to see me as a real person, to know the place that I came from and the person I’ve grown into. It’s also important for young kids to see what’s possible, because I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. It’s really just me giving my everything through the determination and the fight in me. I have far from accomplished what I want to do. I want to show young kids that there are dreams to be reached, despite a difficult background. I can be the motivation for dreaming.
Have you thought about what your life would be without dance?
Everything that I’ve experienced has been because of dance, the people that I’ve met through ballet and the structure that it’s provided. I express to parents that even if your child doesn’t want to go on to be a professional, ballet gives so much to take forward in their lives. They’ll have the discipline, experience in music and knowhow to use their body and brain. I cannot imagine where I would be without it.
What was it like touring with Prince on his Welcome 2 America tour?
He’s so silly, and he likes to play practical jokes like a little kid. When he’s onstage, he’s serious, super-professional and disciplined. But he’s pretty silly!
All of your outside projects have involved dance, is that true of your future ventures?
They still do, very much. I’m so lucky to have the opportunities that have come my way; but I make sure that whatever I’m doing that it’s related to ballet. This is what I do, what I stand for. I’m not quite comfortable venturing out into something outside of that. I was born to do this. I have these gifts, and I’m going to take them as far as I can.