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Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland

It was with great interest that I stumbled upon Misty Copeland, a ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre.

The road that Misty Copeland has taken, has been a long and somewhat difficult journey. Born to Sylvia DelaCerna in Kansas City, Missouri in September 10, 1982. Her mother, had been a cheerleader with Kansas City Chiefs, though she had also studied dance. So dance and movement was in the blood.

The mother and her children would be relocated to the San Pedro community of Los Angeles, California. Misty was the youngest of the four children from her mother’s second marriage.

Now whereas, most ballet dancers start at a young age, Misty was not afforded this luxury. Her family had endured a fair amount of hardship.

Copeland would enrol for her school drill team and it would be here, that her ‘natural presence and skill’ came to the attention of the coach.

Elizabeth Kantine, the drill team coach, had trained in ballet, and said to Copeland,

“What are you doing here? You have the physique of a classical ballet dancer.”

The defining moment in Copeland’s life would come when she went to ‘try ballet’ at the gym of the Boys & Girls Club.

At the gym, dressed in a baggy t-shirt that came close to her knees and borrowed socks, she was called out by Cindy Bradley.

Cindy Bradley, who ran a ballet school and conducted a free session once a week at the gym, immediately took note of Copeland’s ability and would soon remark:

“The perfect ballerina has a small head, sloping shoulders, long legs, big feet, and a narrow rib cage,”

Cindy was reading George Balachine’s description of the ideal dancer.

Cynthia Bradley, a former working dancer with companies in San Diego, Virginia and Kentucky was able to arrange a bursary, due much to the young prodigy’s innate ability. It allowed Misty to train everyday while her mother was at work.

Within a space of 8 months the change was incredible. Copeland was cramming 8 lost years into 1 year. Her development was phenomenal.


When Copeland danced Clara in the “Nutcracker,” the press took note. They were selling 2,000 tickets and the main draw card was Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland began to believe.

Their life at home, had unravelled and they had been living in a residential motel. 6 children in a one bedroom apartment.

Ballet became her life, her dream, her escape from the poverty that they were being confronted with.

She was now staying at the Bradley’s during the week, and on weekends, she would go to see her mother. Soon she was spending less weekends at ‘home’.

Things straight out of a soap opera

In 1998, Sylvia DelaCerna, would attempt to stop the relationship between her daughter and the Bradleys, stating that her daughter should now stay with her back at the Sunset Inn. The fighting was frequent. When it was mentioned, that she could no longer train with the Bradleys, Misty was fearful that her dancing would come to an end. So many of her dreams were wrapped inside the world of ballet.

Misty Copeland would face a custody battle, after she applied for ’emancipation’.

After a ferocious battle in the courts, which was covered by the media and eventually won by her mother, Misty feared the world of no dancing. Her mother now owned a car, and had moved to a 2 bedroom apartment back in the San Pedro area.

It seemed as though nothing would be normal again. Her mother enrolled her in ballet classes in Torrance. It was her mother’s ideal that her daughter have a normal childhood.

She would have Misty audition for several dance programs in 1999. This would lead to Copeland performing with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) as part of its 1999 and 2000 Summer Intensive programs. Things were beginning to settle, of the 150 dancers on the 2000 Summer Intensive Program, Misty would be one of six chosen to join join the junior dance troupe.

In September 2000, Copeland would join the ABT Studio Company , and would become a member of its Corps de ballet in 2001. As part of the Studio Company, which is the ABT’s second company, she performed a duet in Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty


Things were not running entirely smoothly for Misty, as she was to experience what most dancers go through. The late onset of puberty. She was 19. All of a sudden she was getting breasts and a more full figure. Terrifying times for Copeland.

The ABT called her in, and in different wording mentioned, that she needed to lose weight. She was just over 5 ft 2 and above a 100 pounds. Instead of saying she needed to lose weight, she was instructed that, her ‘line is not as lean and classical as before’ and that they wanted it back.

This has put an end to many a career, for many a ballet dancer.

They believed in her, however there was a tradition that needed to be adhered to.

It took Misty 5 years to come to terms with her body. At the end of it all, she was a still a ballet dancer even with her larger breasts and curves.

ABT noted how hard she had worked and no longer began to mention that she needed to ‘lengthen’

She had risen to the status of soloist, and had began carving her own image as a ballet dancer. The musician Prince placed her in one of his music videos, and this brought Copeland to a position of ‘crossover’, taking the elegance of ballet to a larger audience.

This did come at a cost, the Pointe technique requires that the dancer place all their weight on the tips of fully extended feet. The stresses of dancing led to the ‘dreaded black-line fracture’ in her left leg. There was the need for extensive surgery, with a plate being screwed into her tibia, as well as bone marrow being extracted from her hip and injected into the fractures. It was a devastating time for Copeland.

However, the ever resilient Copeland, seemed to have utilised the time to launch her own dancewear line M by Misty, and of recent her own book, ‘Life in Motion – an unlikely ballerina’.

And in her own words, ‘This is for the little brown girls.’

Yes, what makes this story more unique, is that Misty Copeland is African American, and has forged a name for herself in the competitive world of ballet, a truly remarkable achievement.

A Life Inspiration

Author: Gavin Doyle