Good friend of mine told me about Misty Copeland last night, an African American dancer too short, too muscular for the typical ballerina body type but is now a soloist at ABT even though she only started dancing when she was 13, whereas typical professional dancers started at age 4. No doubt, an incredible story.

Got quite curious so I tried to find more information about her this morning, especially a video of her dancing. But many of the results I found on youtube were either related to the new Under Armor featuring her and also news stories featuring her. The only videos I found of her doing classical ballet dancing as part of a performance were old talent search ones so I wasn’t able to see much. Not that I have any idea what is good/bad ballet dancing to be honest since I’ve never done it. Also, it might be because of copyright issues that they can’t be found online either.

Then I started reading her Wikipedia article which had a wealth of information about her, a very detailed description of her childhood, her early career, and even performances she had done in the past few years. I then went onto ABT’s site and realized that above soloists, there are actually principals.  As of Sept 2014, I counted 9 female principals and 5 female soloists in ABT. So given this information, Copeland might be considered at least not consistently one of the top 10 female dancers in her company. I also found this post on a ballet forum supporting this thought.

Given her age being 31 and the age of one of the current promotions of soloist to principal dancer this past June 2014, Isabella Boylston, 27, I think it can be certainly called into question the possibility of Copeland ever making the rank of principal. Compared to Copeland’s Wikipedia article, Boylston’s page definitely seems a little short in comparison.

Copeland also published a new memoir/autobiography in March 2014 titled Life in Motion and the new Under Armour campaign that started in 2014. A quote from the article ‘The sponsorship deal has been huge for Copeland, too. Soloists like her, she says, generally make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year at the ballet company. She’s near the top of that pay range these days, and she says the Under Armour deal actually pays her more than ballet does.’

It seems that at least from these recent developments that Misty is looking to publicize her story a bit more. It is unclear whether she wants to be a celebrity or if she just wants to bring her story to light. This quote from this espn site show that she was very interested in the race question

“It seems so simple,” Copeland says. “Race shouldn’t be dramatic when we have a black president. But the ballet world is very traditional, and change is a very scary thing.”

So there are some interesting questions that are raised here.

i. How does one’s starting point determine how we view his/her end point, success? Is there anything such as undeserved attention. I think some definitely think, maybe the principal dancers themselves, that Misty Copeland is receiving outsized attention given that she isn’t the prima ballerina in the company? Will the other prima ballerinas think that they have worked equally hard? But shouldn’t Misty receive outsized attention for what she has done, given her humble beginnings? Or can we say that as soon as Copeland reached the end of high school, she had already joined the mainstream ballet companies so her effort was equal to all the other girls? Or are there still ongoing mistreatments against her within the company, of favoring other dancers due to her body type?

ii. Given a person of her success in this white-dominated world, what is the most advantageous thing for her to do in order to bring progress to the issue of race in this society? How does a person of an ethnic minority of her stature bring progress to the race issue? Should she publicize her story more to bring awareness to the problem, or should she try to break the ranks of principal to clear any doubt that a person of an ethnic minority can be one of the best ballerinas in the world? Or should she pour all her energy into educating the next generation of ballerinas and try to create many success stories for herself?

But I think we have to be cautious of the first option, of simply publicizing the story, because of how many stories we listen to. It is easy for someone’s story to be heard and forgotten. It’s also easy for someone to simply point to Misty Copeland as a success story and exclaim that ‘LOOK! She did it. You can do it if you love ballet. but no children of color LIKE ballet. that’s why there aren’t any girls of color in ballet’, similar to the criticism of affirmative action. People can also easily blame economic class as the REASON for her not ever getting exposed to ballet.

Any -ism is when there is systematic treatment of a certain group of people with a particular trait/feature. And the most compelling evidence for these -isms is always data, not stories, showing this. Stories only tug at people’s heartstrings but they aren’t strong enough stand alone points by themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. Misty Copeland is an amazing dancer and individual. There are great reviews of her performance as Firebird during 2012. What she has achieved given her circumstances and the ballet community is absolutely incredible. But I think she has difficult decisions to make in her life.



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