Misty Copeland Tells Barbara Walters About Feeling 'Exposed' During Custody Battle Between Mother, Teacher

"It really took a toll on me," Copeland told Barbara Walters.

ByABC News
December 16, 2015, 4:05 AM

— -- Misty Copeland made history this year when she became the first black female principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.

But before she became the graceful and groundbreaking ballerina she is today, Copeland told Barbara Walters she was once an anxious child.

"I was just so always afraid of what people thought of me and of failing," Copeland told Barbara Walters in an interview for the ABC News special, "Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2015."

Copeland began her dance career at 13 years old in a ballet class at a Boys and Girls Club, where she was a natural. Though it usually takes years, Copeland was dancing on point in three months.

At the time, Copeland was living in a welfare motel room with her single mother and her five siblings in San Pedro, California. The family lived on food stamps while Copeland's mom worked multiple jobs.

Since ballet took up so much of her time, Copeland's instructor Cindy Bradley invited her to live with her family during the week.

But at 15, Copeland made headlines for being the center of a legal battle between her mother and Bradley over whom Copeland would live with. The case was eventually dropped, and Copeland continued to live with her mother.

However, before the issue was resolved, the family appeared on the television show "Leeza."

"So much of my life was kind of put out there in the public because of this custody situation. And it really took a toll on me," Copeland said. "I felt like I was being exposed for all of these people to be finding out about my personal life on television, and I just wasn't prepared for that."

Today, Copeland is in the spotlight for her talent and as the American Ballet Theatre’s first black female principal dancer.

"And I think that I have changed that perception for a lot of people," Copeland said.