When I was six years old, my mom signed me up for gymnastics. My favorite memory from tumbling was when I had a “makeup” class because of not being able to make a session. I asked my coach if he was going to put our makeup on. I thought it was a class on how to put makeup on, not a class to makeup for times my mom could not drive me to my gymnastics class. After realizing I was bored and not cut out for gymnastics, my mom put me in all dance classes. I loved dance. My favorite part was probably the dressing up. I danced for around 10 years. Because of my dance background I still follow many dancers and what is going on in the dance world. There have been two young ladies I noticed this year and I thought I would tell you their culture-shaping stories. Ballet is my favorite or most accomplished form of dance. Ballet was founded by a French king and became a world renown dance throughout the world. The goal of a ballerina is to be signed with a company as a Prima Ballerina. This means that they are the first dancer or main part of a production. The talent and detail muscle control that each prima ballerina has is remarkable. When watching a ballet you want to be watching the Prima Ballerina. The highest honor in the dance of ballet is to be a Prima Ballerina Assoluta. Only 11 dancers have claimed this title. It’s intense!
A well known ballet dancer is Audrey Hepburn. She stars in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Because of starvation during WWII, she developed an immune disease. Audrey was discouraged to go on with her studies as a ballerina, being told that she was not strong enough to be a prima. This led her to go into acting. Audrey later regrets listening to her mentor in stepping down from ballet, however, she gave women around the world a look that anyone could pull off in fashion. She redefined culture’s view of beauty.
Similar to Audrey’s influence on culture, Misty Copeland is the first ballerina I want you to know about. She started her career through horrible circumstances. Her mother was a single mom and struggled to afford to send her to dance lessons. Misty took dance lessons through a boys and girls club that was taught by her soon-to-be-mentor, Cynthia Bradley. Cynthia later took Misty into her home while her mother was struggling through her fourth divorce. Misty’s mother and Bradley soon battled for rights, pushing Misty into the spotlight of the public. The lawsuit was brought to the public spotlight.
Through this horrible battle Misty still continued to grow as a dancer. There were may things holding her back. First, she was constantly criticized for her body, which was too muscular. Her feet were too big and thirdly, she started dancing later in life. The other major obstacle for Misty was the fact that she is half African American and half American German. Being an African American in an all caucasian dance form was almost a hopeless situation. However, even with all of the mountains culture had placed in front of Misty, she continued to progress. Her first big break was the American Ballet Theatre. During this time the pressures of body image fell on her and she began to develop an eating disorder, which is not uncommon in the sport.
Over the next year, new friendships outside of ABT, including with Victoria Rowell and her boyfriend, Olu Evans, helped her to regain confidence in her body. She explained, “My curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one. I started dancing with confidence and joy, and soon the staff at ABT began giving me positive feedback again. And I think I changed everyone’s mind about what a perfect dancer is supposed to look like.” During her years in the corps, as the only Black woman in the company, Copeland also felt the burden of her ethnicity in many ways and contemplated a variety of career choices. Recognizing that Copeland’s isolation and self-doubt were standing in the way of her talent, ABT’s artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, asked writer and arts figure Susan Fales-Hill, then vice-chair of ABT’s Board of Directors, to mentor Copeland. Fales-Hill introduced Copeland to Black women trailblazers who encouraged Copeland and helped her to gain perspective.
Here is the best thing that could have happened in dance history: Misty Copeland became the first African American Prima Ballerina for the ABT. She became the first prima ballerina to be African American June 30th, 2015. I think this is huge. Look what one woman who believes in her body, her talent, her ethnicity… believes in herself… can do.
This year you can see Misty Copeland represent Under Armor in their commercials, articles and advertisements. This is another amazing story for dance, since ballet is not the typical sport and Misty is not, in ballet culture, the typical dancer. Misty’s story encourages my tired self, telling me to keep dancing through life’s difficulties. Don’t let culture tell you otherwise. You may be able to pave a new path for others to do the same.
Want to learn more about Misty? Check out her website at mistycopeland.com
What do you need to have confidence in? What are you limiting yourself in because of something culture has pushed on you? How can you use confidence to redefine culture?
Next week I will post another inspiring story in the history of dance that is occurring right now. Don’t miss the two dancers who are shaping culture right here on TheFullColorLife blog.
Photoshoot: by Corrie Mick www.corriemick.com
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