NEW YORK – Misty Copeland, the Kansas City-born dancer who has become a forceful voice for diversity in ballet, was named a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre on Tuesday – the first African-American ballerina to achieve that status in the company’s 75-year history.
The company announced the promotion six days after Copeland made her New York debut in the role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake,” one of the most important roles in a ballerina’s repertoire. The emotional performance ended with Copeland being greeted onstage by trailblazing black ballerinas of earlier generations.
Copeland, 32, has become a celebrity in the past several years, making the cover of Time magazine as one of the most influential figures of 2015, and writing a best-selling memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” in which she recounted the challenges she faced on the road to her hard-won perch in ballet – and which has been optioned for a movie. She also was the subject of a documentary at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Copeland also was featured in a popular ad for Under Armour sportswear that shows her leaping and spinning in a studio, while a narrator recounts some of the negative feedback she received as a youngster, when she was told she had the wrong body for ballet and had started too late – at 13.
The dancer also has appeared as a guest host on the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance” and was a presenter at this year’s Tony awards.
Copeland is the first black ballerina to be named principal at ABT, and the second black dancer overall. Desmond Richardson, a black male dancer, was a principal with the company in 1977-1978, and returned as a guest artist later.
Copeland was born in Kansas City and grew up in the Los Angeles area.