Misty Copeland

“Start unknown, finish unforgettable.”

Misty Copeland, American Ballet Dancer, 1982-Present

Raised in California by a single mother, Misty Copeland’s first ballet class was on a basketball court. When school coaches noticed her natural talent, she began her dance career at the San Pedro City Ballet at age 13, which is considered late for a ballet dancer. Even so, she progressed quickly, winning awards and a scholarship to the intensive summer program at the San Francisco Ballet. Shy and introverted as a child, ballet was a form of escape and self-soothing, she has said. 

Known for her drive and perseverance, Copeland was invited to join the American Ballet Theater in 2001, the only Black woman in a group of 80. She became the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer in 2015. Copeland has performed lead roles in more than 60 productions including Cinderella, Don Quixote, Giselle, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. Not just a ballerina, she has also created her own roles and choreography, such as the Spanish Dance for The Nutcracker. Copeland also became a pop icon, performing live with Prince and dancing in his mesmerizing video for “Crimson and Clover” in 2009.

An advocate for the health and positive body image, Copeland was instrumental in Obama’s President’s Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, to which she was appointed in 2014. The following year Copeland was named one of the TIME 100 by Time magazine. She is the author of a best-selling memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (2014), and the children’s book Firebird, named for one of her most famous ballet performances. Known for being more full-figured than her contemporaries, she wrote Ballerina Body, a guide to building a lean and strong physique, published in 2017. 

Copeland advises Project Plié, the ABT’s organization that brings ballet training to teachers in diverse communities and has said that bringing awareness to the lack of diversity in ballet is a large part of her purpose. 


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