NEW YORK – Misty Copeland on Tuesday became the first African-American female principal ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in the dance company’s 75-year history.
Copeland, 32, joined American Ballet Theatre in 2001 and has been a soloist with the prestigious company since 2007.
“I am so honored to be a principal dancer, to be an African-American and to be in this position,” an emotional Copeland, who started ballet at age 13, told a news conference.
The Kansas City-born dancer follows in the footsteps of Desmond Richardson, a black male dancer who was made principal with the American Ballet Theatre in 1997.
Copeland admitted having moments of doubt when she wanted to quit because she was not sure an African-American woman could make it to the top level in the world of classical ballet, which is dominated by white dancers.
“At the same time it made me so hungry to push through to carry the next generation. It is not me up here,” she said. “It is for everyone who came before me, that got me to this position and all the little girls who can see themselves through me. It is giving them a brighter future.”
Copeland, the author of a best-selling memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” and the subject of a documentary film, “A Ballerina’s Tale,” has been a supporter of diversity in ballet. She had also been open about her goal to be lead dancer with American Ballet Theatre.
“My dream has been ABT since I was 13,” she said fighting back tears. “I’m excited to continue to grow as an artist and hopefully see more brown dancers come into the company in my lifetime.”
Copeland has already been credited for being an inspiration for younger dancers and for bringing in more diverse audiences to ballet. In her best-selling memoir, she recounted how weird it was for minorities just to buy tickets to the ballet.
Copeland has also appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Earlier this year she took on the lead role in the American Ballet Theatre production of “Swan Lake.”
“It’s been a long journey but it is just the beginning,” she added.