For a decade, Misty Copeland was the only African American ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theater.
“It’s really hard. The classical ballet world is so far behind,” Copeland told ABC News’ Dan Harris in an interview for “This Week.”
In 2007, Copeland made history by becoming the third African American female soloist at the American Ballet Theater. Her fervent dream is to become the first African American principal ballerina there.
“When it comes to classical ballet, you just don’t see it,” Copeland said of African Americans and other minority ballerinas. “People don’t want to break this tradition of what they think is the ideal image of a ballerina.”
Copeland grew up in poverty in the Los Angeles area along with her siblings and single mother. Despite difficult circumstances, she managed to rise to stardom.
“We were pretty much homeless and were living in a motel, trying to scrape up enough money to go to the corner store to get [a] cup a noodle soup to eat,” Copeland said. “It was probably the worst time in my childhood when ballet found me.”
At age 13, Copeland and her siblings visited a Boys and Girls Club, where ballet teacher Cindy Bradley discovered her and encouraged her to pursue formal ballet training.
“I had no real direction, no real motivation to become anything,” Copeland explained.
But her teacher was persistent, and eventually she persuaded Copeland to pursue ballet.
“Having someone believe in me is why I think I dove into it,” Copeland said.
Just four years after her first class, Copeland was accepted by one of the top ballet companies in the world, knowing that she would continue to face struggles based on her race and background.
Though Copeland says that she herself has never experienced overt racism, she expressed frustration that young African American girls are discouraged from pursuing this prestigious career path.
“To hear from a 7 year old African American girl, being told that, you know, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be in this ballet class because you won’t have a career,’” was a call to action for Copeland, she said, leading her to launch a new American Ballet Theater program called Project Plié that recruits young dancers from diverse backgrounds.
Copeland said that while dancing, she often reflects on how far she has come.
“It’s crazy, Copeland said, “but then I have to remember all the hard work that went into those years to get here. I do often think of that.”
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