In 2014, Misty Copeland was asked about her goals.
She responded, “My goal is to become the first African American principal dancer with ABT.”
Only a year later, this goal would become reality. In 2015, the Missouri native made history as the first Black woman named principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater’s 75-year history, the highest honor a ballet dancer can receive.
Copeland is no stranger to success. Even before being promoted to principal dancer, she was quickly becoming one of the most recognizable ballet dancers in the industry. She graced the cover of Time when the magazine named her one of their most influential people in 2015.
Copeland’s work helped change the face of ballet. Not only did she bring the art to new and diverse audiences, but her promotion to principal dancer also sparked questions about diversity in ballet. While dance is part of a rich tradition in Black history and culture, many dance companies still struggle to diversify their ballet companies. Copeland recalls the lack of diversity causing her to doubt her own talent.
“I had moments of doubting myself, and wanting to quit, because I didn’t know that there would be a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level,” she said during a news conference. “At the same time, it made me so hungry to push through, to carry the next generation. So it’s not me up here—and I’m constantly saying that—it’s everyone that came before me that got me to this position.”
When she isn’t breaking barriers with her pirouettes, Copeland stays busy. Last year, she used the runway at Fashion Week to promote the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign to increase awareness around women’s heart health. Copeland was also appointed to President Obama’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.