She persisted though, joining American Ballet Theatre and rising to the position of main dancer, the first Black woman. She advocated for greater diversity in the arts and made history in roles ranging from Juliet to Clara. For a 13-year-old, it was a lot of pressure. However, she never saw it that way.
"When I first watched ABT dance live in Los Angeles, I was maybe 14 years old, and I thought, 'That's my future.' I was so in love with it that I felt compelled to do it.
Mentors were essential to her survival. For the first ten years of her career, Cindy Drexler was the sole Black female dancer in the junior company of American Ballet Theater (ABT). An ABT board member placed a message for her on the notice board beside the stage door when ABT performed in Los Angeles.
Copeland reveals that "so many lovely Black women have entered my life like angels." There were microaggressions during her time at American Ballet Theater (ABT), sometimes on a daily basis, and several times she came close to quitting.
"Being able to take a step back, observe, and take notes from the Black dancers who came and went through ABT was one of my saving graces. It was also getting the lead role in Alexei Ratmansky's adaptation of Firebird after he joined ABT as the choreographer and recognized my talent. Later, when I had greater visibility and was a principal dancer, the demand to speak on behalf of others began to mount."
Ballet dancer Misty Copeland is a fervent supporter of greater diversity in the genre. Although she says that she's been holding these discussions for 20 years, audiences have only started paying attention in the last two.
"You have different priorities as an artist in terms of what you want to concentrate on," she says. According to Copeland, the best way to manage your time is just setting priorities.
"My personal experience has taught me how crucial employee turnover is to a business. I got a glimpse of what life will be like away from the stage during the pandemic. ABT went through a very trying period when a few dancer cohorts were left behind since there was little movement at the top. If you aren't organized, focused, and grounded, it will be impossible for you to perform on stage as the dancer you want to be.'