It’s no wonder Misty Copeland is a role model for countless aspiring ballerinas. Misty didn’t take her first dance class until age 13, at the local Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro, CA. Her natural strength and flexibility, plus a killer work ethic, meant she advanced quickly, and in 2000 she joined American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company. Misty became a member of ABT’s corps de ballet in 2001 and was promoted to soloist in 2007. Not afraid to think outside the ballerina box, Misty toured with Prince in 2011 and has made numerous TV appearances, including in a Dr. Pepper commercial last year. Now her followers can find inspiration in her book, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, which describes the ups and downs of her journey, including what it’s like to be one of the few black dancers in the ballet world. Get your copy of Life in Motion via amazon.com and bookstores March 4—and read on for The Dirt. —RZ
Misty Copeland in La Bayadère (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor)
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Who would play you in a movie?
What’s your dream role?
Juliet...today. It changes all the time.
What’s the strangest thing in your dance bag?
Men's Cologne. I prefer it to women's.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
RULING THE WORLD. Just kidding. LOL. Retiring from dance, traveling, having a family, continuing to diversify classical ballet.
What’s your most embarrassing onstage moment?
Falling on my face—which I've done too many times.
What have been your proudest career moments so far?
Dancing Firebird, helping bring Project Plié to fruition.
What's your advice for Dance Spirit readers?
Surround yourself with people who will support you. It's OK to accept help and advice!
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.