In a world preoccupied by categories and labels, Misty Copeland shines as a leading example to women around the world to fight stereotypes and define who you are by your own terms.

Copeland made history by becoming the first African American Principal dancer with the renowned American Ballet Theatre (ABT).

(Photo by Henry Leutwyler)

However, this was no easy feat. The story of Copeland’s discovery of dance encompasses immense struggles. Living in a motel room with her five other siblings and single mother, Copeland stumbled upon ballet at the late age of thirteen and instantly fell in love. Her newest passion gave her the voice she never had. However, it was no secret that Copeland didn’t fit the industry’s image of the ideal ballerina. She didn’t fit the mold. “I’m black,” she says, and “I have a large chest, I’m muscular.”

“It’s important for me to set an example of what a healthy image is, what a ballerina can be. That she doesn’t have to be a white woman that is real thin. She could look like the world.”

-Misty Copeland

Influencers like Raven Wilkinson, known as the first African American woman to dance in a major classical ballet company,  became Copeland’s motivation and served as a beacon of hope that dreams for an African American to dance professionally were possible.

Copeland knew she could help eradicate the stereotypes asserted to ballerinas as tall, thin, white women and show that with the right work ethic and support group, any dream is possible. Her tenacity and dedication is what has driven Copeland to question the industry’s ideals and change the face of ballet as we know it.

Her rise to fame began with ballet. But Copeland has since become the face of Under Armour‘s “I Will What I Want” campaign with a commercial that has garnered over 9 million views to date and was named on TIME’S 100 for 2015.

In all her endeavors, Copeland brings to life the beauty in diversity and having that shown on stage and in all things. In 2015, Copeland was given the opportunity to debut in “Swan Lake” with the Washington Ballet as Odile/Odette, the leading role. Her partner, Brooklyn Mack, who is also African American played the lead male role of Prince Siegfried. The two entirely uprooted the ideals of one of the most traditional ballets of all time.


“Having two African Americans dancing together seems to provide a fresh take on this classic while challenging traditional notions of what a ballerina and principal male dancer should look like in the classical canon.”- Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre


Copeland’s book Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina is yet another platform used to help motivate other individuals struggling with stereotyping. Additionally, her autobiographic film A Ballerina’s Tale recalls one of the most difficult times in the dancer’s life when she experienced six fractures in her shin and worried she’d never be able to dance again. Her drive to keep fighting was ignited not only by her personal passion, but the realization that she is a role model for all who are fighting for a dream come true.


Follow Copeland on Instagram  to keep up-to-date with her latest ventures.