Misty Copeland on Her Long Road to Ballet Stardom

Part 4: Copeland talks to Barbara Walters about her struggle to become American Ballet Theatre's first female African-American principal dancer.
6:13 | 12/18/15

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Transcript for Misty Copeland on Her Long Road to Ballet Stardom
Our next guest is an artist and an athlete, a trailblazer in a tutu. Presenting principal ballerina misty Copeland. Misty Copeland has the graceful arms, the long extension, and the strong, supple feet of a classic ballerina. There is one thing most ballerinas have that misty doesn't -- white skin. Black ballerinas like misty are rare. This year, she became American ballet theatre's first ever black principal ballerina. She won the title after years of criticism. It is said that you don't have a ballerina's body. What's missing? I think it's something that people say when they don't want to say, "You have the wrong skin color for ballet." Reporter: Really? So what do they say? My legs are too muscular. I shouldn't be seen in a tutu. My bust is too big. Reporter: So what are you doing out there, anyway? Yeah. Misty Copeland is not your conventional ballerina in lots of ways. Her commercial for under Armour went viral in 2014, she was the subject of a documentary, "A ballerina's tale," did a commercial for blackberry, and appeared in a Broadway musical, "On the town." If her resume is unusual, her path to becoming a ballerina is beyond unusual. A series of near catastrophes that misty somehow serenely soared above. She was born in Kansas City in 1982, the youngest of four. After a divorce, the family moved to California when she was a toddler. Before misty was 13, she would move six times.easy, nervous, anxious. About what? Life. Reporter: As a teenager, you would get to school an hour early so you wouldn't be late. Yeah. Reporter: I mean, this tremendous anxiety -- is that still part of you? I think the environment I grew up in and being a middle child -- it didn't force me to step out of my shell of have to stand up for myself or have to have a voice. I was just always afraid of what people thought of me and of failing. Reporter: In 1995, the family reached a low point, living on food stamps in one room in this welfare motel. It was then at a teacher's suggestion that misty went to a ballet class at the boys & girls club. Good. Reporter: She was a natural, a prodigy. Misty was on pointe in three months. Soon, she was performing, and she loved it. When you get on a stage, what happens to you? I transform. It's something that's happened to me from day one. It was like I was in this bubble, and no one could touch me. Reporter: How would you describe ballet? I would say that it is a full body, mind, spirit experience. The ballet is the ballerina. Reporter: Ballet took up much of misty's time, so her teacher, Cynthia Bradley, invited misty to live with her and her family. I don't think I'd ever really been in an environment like that, that was very calm and structured, and it made me think, this is what is Normal, and this is what I should have. I should have my own room. I shouldn't have to sleep on, you know, the floor of a motel with my five siblings. Reporter: When misty was 15, a legal battle between her mother and teacher broke out over whom misty would live with. Misty's mother took her case to the court of public opinion, "The leeza gibbons show." This is my daughter. You don't have any say-so over anything. Talk what you know. The only reason we came here is because welt we had to be heard if you were on this show. Misty, everybody here is looking at you and the pain on your face and talking about you. How hard is this? It's very hard. But I can't do anything about that. 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. Reporter: In the end, misty returned to her mother and began classes with another teacher. After successfully auditioning, she joined American ballet theatre after high school. At 24, she became a soloist. But while her talent was clear to everyone, she seemed stuck at that position, always the supporting actress, never the star. In 2012, she got her big break -- dancing the lead in "Fire bird," a huge success. Then she made history as Abt's first black principal ballerina. Do you think that you have changed some people's perception? Yes, I do. I think that for a very long time, people put african-american dancers in a box, that they weren't capable of doing classic ballet. Their feet were too flat, their legs were too muscular, they just didn't fit the mold, and I think that I have changed that perception for a lot of people. Reporter: You're a star now. Do you still experience racism? Yes. I don't think that's something I could ever change, but yes. I do experience it. Reporter: You are changing it already. Well, yes. Reporter: Finish this sentence for me. "Misty Copeland is --" Strong. Reporter: And graceful and talented and a prima ballerina.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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