She Pushed Past Stereotypes To Excel In Ballet

Three ballerinas in Robert Garland's "Return"
Shonda Buchanan
July 29, 2020

Pain shot through Misty Copeland’s calves. The white ballerinas stabbed her with their eyes. She could hear their thoughts: “Your butt is too big.” “Your feet are too flat.” “You don’t belong here.” 

She swallowed her fear, leaping and landing perfectly. “I can do this,” she thought. Could she?

She thought of her mentor, Raven Wilkinson, who’d been the first Black ballerina to dance in a major ballet company - which got her threats from the KKK. Black ballerinas were called horrible names and encouraged to lighten their skin.

Channeling her rage with dignity, Misty lifted herself into a perfect pirouette and moved into the spotlight. Then came the final blow!

“Put more powder on your face to whiten your skin. You’ll blend in,” Misty was told. Her spirit nearly broke. Should she quit? 

They were trying to erase her beautiful Black skin. They made fun of her beautiful Black body. No more!

She would NOT “pancake” her skin to be lighter - and she would NOT fail! 

Misty landed perfectly, glistening and grinning. She was offered the job! In 2015, she became the first Black woman principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre.

“Do it for the little brown girls,” Misty has told herself throughout her career.

She became a role model for thousands of Black girls who aspired to be ballerinas. Despite the racism she suffered, she had the last laugh!

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