Celebrity Travel: Go away with Misty Copeland
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in San Pedro, California, Misty Copeland understands her role as a trailblazer in the classical dance world. She is the first Black female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. That’s one reason why the New York Times bestselling author decided to write “Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy” (Aladdin, $19.99), a children’s book that releases on November 2 (https://mistycopeland.com/store/). Copeland is already at work on her next book, which will be about the late ballerina, Raven Wilkinson, who was allowed to perform with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, under the condition that she present herself as a white woman.
Q: How much knowledge did you have about Black ballerinas prior to becoming one?
A: It was embarrassing for me coming into this ballet culture and not knowing about my history as a Black ballerina. That’s why I dove into doing the research, because I felt so alone. It has been mind-blowing to see so many stories that are like mine, and so many stories that are that much worse. It’s important for me in this position to acknowledge that I may have cracked open this door, but it's that much harder for someone with darker skin. And that's the next level. There's so much more work to be done. (That’s why for my book) it was important for me to include dancers of every shade (of Black) that have contributed in incredible ways to the ballet world.
Q: When you write, do you ever work on your manuscript while you’re on the road?
A: I write wherever I am, because I have deadlines. I actually did a lot of writing or editing while I was in Oakland, California, this summer. It was a very interesting place to be, because it has so much deep Black history with artists and the Black Panthers. That definitely helped me. On my first or second edit of my (2014) memoir, I was on a plane to Tokyo. It was my first book, and it was a big deal to me. So, I spent many hours on that plane going through what I had written.
Q: It seems that larger cities would have more diversity. Was it a culture shock for you to see this wasn’t true for ballet?
A: It was one of the most shocking things that I experienced. I'm in New York City and I'm walking, I'm on the subway ... and you see all this incredible diversity. Growing up in Black communities for most of my childhood, that’s what I was accustomed to. Then you enter 890 Broadway (home of the American Ballet Theatre) and you don't see a brown face anywhere. I would spend eight hours of my day as the only Black woman in the company. That went on for 10 years. It was even more shocking when we traveled the world. Ballet is very white. You travel to a place like Russia and step on these iconic stages in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, and you are the only Black or brown person there.
Q: Do you remember your first tour as a ballerina?
A: I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just turned 18 and I went with the company as an apprentice to China. Oh my gosh, it was my first time leaving the country! And I realized how different I was in those places. My best friend was my roommate on the tour, and she looked very white, even though she’s actually Middle Eastern and Cuban. We were all told to stay out of the sun and look as pale as we can, but I’m always going to look different, right? It was an interesting and difficult tour.
Q: What did you learn on that trip?