Misty Copeland just made history. The 32-year-old has been promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, making her the first Black ballerina to do so since the company was founded 75 years ago.
Copleand has been vocal about the lack of diversity in ballet, which, according to the New York Times, likely put pressure on the American Ballet Theater to promote her. She has danced with the prestigious dance company for nearly half of her life.
Reports the New York Times:
Her promotion — after more than 14 years with the company, nearly eight as a soloist — came as Ms. Copeland’s fame spread far beyond traditional dance circles.
She made the cover of Time magazine this year, was profiled by “60 Minutes” and presented a Tony Award on this year’s telecast. She has written a memoir and a children’s book, and has more than a half-million followers on Instagram. An online ad she made for Under Armour has been viewed more than 8 million times, and she is the subject of a documentary screened this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Over the past year, whenever Ms. Copeland, 32, danced leading roles with Ballet Theater, her performances became events, drawing large, diverse, enthusiastic crowds to cheer her on at the Metropolitan Opera house, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. After she starred in “Swan Lake” with Ballet Theater last week — becoming the first African-American to do so with the company at the Met — the crowd of autograph seekers was so large that people had to be moved away from the cramped stage door area.
Ms. Copeland, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was unusually outspoken about her ambition of becoming the first black woman named a principal dancer by Ballet Theater, one of the nation’s most prestigious companies, which is known for its international roster of stars and for staging full-length classical story ballets.
“My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company,” she wrote in her memoir,”Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” published last year. “That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.”
This put an unusual public spotlight on Ballet Theater as it weighed the kind of personnel decision that, in the rarified world of ballet, is rarely discussed openly. If the company had not promoted Ms. Copeland, it risked being seen as perpetuating the inequalities that have left African-American dancers, particularly women, woefully underrepresented at top ballet companies.
See photos of Copeland below.