Misty Copeland’s Will to Win

Despite the odds, American Ballet Theatre's principal ballerina keeps making history and inspiring the masses.

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- Posted on Jul 15, 2015

Ballerina Misty Copeland makes history, American Ballet Theater's first African American principal ballerina

Misty Copeland has changed the face of ballet. Last week, the best-selling author and pop culture phenomenon was promoted to principal ballerina—the first ever African American woman to earn the rank in the American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history.

Named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, the award-winning ballerina had an uncommon start in the art form she now dominates. Though most professional ballerinas start dancing as toddlers, Copeland began her first lesson at the Boys & Girls Club of America at age 13. Deemed a prodigy, Copeland went on to excel in ballet.

However, her meteoric rise—which will be documented in a film based on her life—was not easy, nor did it happen overnight. In her memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, she recalls feeling isolated and alone when she joined ABT as a 19-year-old because there were no other ballerinas who looked like her.  Before she joined the ballet company, she received many rejections from other dance companies due to her age, her atypical body type and her skin color. 

She brings that experience to life in a powerful commercial for sports brand Under Armour. While Copeland shows off her dance skills, a child’s voice reads one of the exceptionally harsh rejection letters Copeland received from a dance company when she was 13. The letter writer said that she had the wrong feet, bust and body for ballet and she was too old to be considered. The commercial ends with Copeland smiling victoriously and the words, “I will what I want.” The ad was named one of the 10 Best Ads of 2014 by Adweek.

Copeland credits her success not only to her willpower, but to the team of people who encouraged her to keep going when she wanted to quit. She makes it a point to give her time and resources to the Boys & Girls Club of America, where she got her start. She also dances for unlikely fans. During Copeland’s historic, standing-room only performance as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake last month, the AP noted the incredible diversity of children in the audience—many of whom wouldn’t be as excited about ballet, or their potential future in dance, without being inspired by Copeland.

Copeland is determined for people to respect ballet beyond its reputation as a beautiful art form. By teaming up with Under Armor as a spokeswoman, Copeland hopes to show the athleticism and stamina behind the well-polished performances through a series of inspiring commercials.

She says of the partnership, “It couldn’t have been a better collaboration. They’re about everything ballet is about: passion, innovation. It’s so amazing that they want to showcase artists as athletes.”

She explains her new role with Under Armour as, “putting the [ballerina’s] process on this massive platform and bringing it to athletes and showing exactly what ballet is. There’s a reason so many athletes take ballet; no matter [which sports you play], ballet supports everything you want to do with your body, as well as engaging your mind.”

The 32-year-old star—who’s toured with Prince and designs her own dancewear—continues to prove the versatility of ballet by dancing her way onto another famous New York stage next month: Broadway. Copeland will make her debut in the dance-heavy musical comedy On the Town as the lead character, Ivy Smith, in a two-week run from August-September, just before  her history-making turn as principal ballerina for ABT will begin.

From unlikely ballerina to Broadway star, Misty Copeland’s life in motion epitomizes the limitless possibilities available when you will what you want and never take no for an answer.

See beautiful photos of Misty Copeland and read 5 of her most inspiring quotes here!

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