Misty Copeland in her unforgettable performance as the “Firebird”, who stands against evil and rises to the heights in fiery glory.
I just turned the last page of Misty Copeland’s book, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”, and closed the cover. I had barely put it down from page one.
Her story flows, much like her beautiful, graceful dancing. So much so that I was immersed to the point of not realizing I was reading at all, but totally absorbed in her world and in her mind and heart, which she lays so openly before the reader.
Her struggles for place, for identity, for acceptance, and finally for recognition of who she is — a talent of unprecedented grace and fire and joy — pulls us unerringly from sentence to sentence and page to page.
I first became aware of Misty when she appeared as a guest judge on Season 11 of “So You Think You Can Dance”. I knew nothing whatsoever of her background, but my sister Katie and I loved her from the beginning. Our initial impression was of beauty and grace, followed swiftly by her knowledge of dance, her expertise. And beyond that, her ability to express herself, not only clearly and well, but with warmth and compassion.
I set out to discover who this young lady was. I didn’t have to go far. My New Hampshire friend Jo Anne, a patron of the arts in every genre, was swift to fill in this huge gap in my education. In fact, she sent the book as my Christmas gift this year. I’m not good with geography, but I think New Hampshire is close to the North Pole. Right?
I was immediately drawn to Misty’s tale of little-girl-lost, who was moved from pillar to post by a mother who made disastrous decisions, sometimes on the fly, as her daughter grabbed for roots and ports in storms.
Ballet saved her. It’s own roots go back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The stability and commitment of ballet grounded her as nothing else could, and awakened in her a love and joy and passion she had never known. It became her lifeline.
Noticed by her drill-team leader at school, Misty was introduced to ballet teacher Cindy Bradley, a volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of America where Misty went after school. It didn’t take long for Cindy to realize she had a prodigy on her hands. From the beginning she knew Misty was a cut above, and that she could possibly make history in the world of ballet.
But, at the age of thirteen, Misty was already old for a novice ballet student. Though she picked up the movements and steps before she even knew their names, Misty always saw herself as coming from behind, a mind-set she constantly had to struggle to overcome.
By the age of 17 she had already garnered much publicity for her outstanding performances as a young and gifted African-American dancer. Accepted into the prestigious American Ballet Theater, however, she found her struggle was just beginning.
She had to carve her niche in that white wall that was the world of professional ballet. But what that white world would eventually come to realize was — this little prodigy was destined to shatter long-held conceptions of ballet, while maintaining its history, its status, and its integrity.
Her story of overcoming through poverty, through the shame of a very public family trial, through pain both physical and mental, through self-doubt and through the temptation to give up, is a story that should inspire anyone who has ever felt the hand of adversity, or struggled to achieve against all odds.
Misty Copeland has not only made history in the world of dance, she inspires and motivates “all the little brown girls” out there who want to be ballerinas. She has “helped facilitate the ABT’s Project Plie, a partnership between the company and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America . . . bringing ABT-trained teachers to clubs across the country to scout for talented kids.
She is introducing ballet to people who might not otherwise ever see a performance, and bringing it’s ethereal beauty to the attention of all people.
That’s a lot of achievement for anyone’s lifetime. A great story that I highly recommend.