Misty Copeland On Prince And The Curvy Ballerina Revolution
Wednesday's episode of the new documentary series "A Day in the Life" from award-winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock stars superhot, utterly gorgeous and uber-talented classical ballerina Misty Copeland. The native Californian beauty has not only broken down racial barriers to become American Ballet Theatre's first African-American soloist, she's also in tight with Prince. Clearly, she's doing something right. Copeland's "Day in the Life" episode features the dancer chilling with kids at the Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx and working with choreographers at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She talked with us about the episode, her new dance-wear line for curvy girls and, yes, her relationship with Prince.
How did you get involved with Morgan Spurlock?
I believe he saw me perform at one of the concerts I did with Prince at Madison Square Garden, and I think he just thought it was really cool to see a classical ballerina doing something different.
How do you address the notion that the bodies of black girls and women were not made to be ballerinas?
I speak about it all the time. My body is very different from most of the dancers I dance with. I might not have the stereotypical "black body," but I definitely am more curvy and have a more athletic build from most ballet dancers. I actually have a dance-wear line coming out especially for curvy women, because most dance wear is made for professional dancers who are very petite with small busts and no real curves. I also have a plus-size line coming out that focuses on support of the bust, while still being very fashionable and elegant.
I often wonder if promoting this whole idea of "plus-size" isn’t actually hurting us in the long run. What do you think?
Most of the women I've talked to who are plus-size don't even want to make that first step of taking a ballet class or going to the gym because they feel so unattractive, or like the athletic or dance wear out there doesn’t flatter them. They don't want to put on a big T-shirt and a sports bra that doesn't fit them properly. So I think the plus-size line is more about promoting a healthy body image and getting women to take those first steps to becoming healthier.
Moving right on to the next area of black female neurosis, how do you handle your hair as a black ballet dancer?
It's hard. ABT doesn't have a lot of black dancers in the company, but are now making a transition where there are more black students enrolling in their schools. As ballet dancers, we have to be able to do so many different things with our hair, and I'm glad to say that the company has approached me about how to deal with black hair, rather than say the wrong thing to a young black girl. My hair texture isn't as, you know, black as black hair -- I'm mixed but my hair is still curly, and a lot of times I have to blow-dry it or straighten it before I do certain performances. It's hard to take care of our hair when it gets pulled back so much and becomes damaged. When I'm off, I try my best to let my hair be natural.
Tell me what it's been like working with Prince.
Getting to know him personally has been such an eye-opener for me as an artist. Being around another artist who is so passionate about what he does, I feel like I've grown so much in the past two years. Just to see firsthand a musical genius, and to see that it's okay to be completely immersed in what you do. Those are the best artists. He's just been a great mentor and friend. It's been fun.
What specifically do you feel you've learned as a dancer from Prince as a musician?
Something happened, something clicked when I really got to know him that gave me this confidence on stage. He's just helped me to see the bigger picture -- to not be so focused on the political things that happen in my company and with dancers around me, and to really focus on me and what I'm doing. Not to feel judged by other people. When you're in a field like I am, you get more negative feedback than you do positive. I mean, we stand in front of a mirror all day because we're supposed to look at our flaws and fix them. So it's been nice having someone say positive things like, "You can do this" and "The sky's the limit."
What's next for you?
There's so much happening. The dance-wear line. My season with American Ballet Theatre is going to be really exciting -- we're doing a new version of a ballet called "The Firebird," and I've just learned that I will be the firebird. So it's a really big deal to be a soloist in the principal role -- and as a black woman, too. I feel like it's all just starting and the hard work is paying off.
Do you ever tire of dancing?
What I love about classical ballet is that I will never perfect it. The work never ends, and the opportunities to grow in a particular role never end. So in those terms, I don't think I will ever get tired of it.
Did you see "Black Swan"?
I did. I'm probably one of the few professionals I know who enjoyed it, but I did. It was cool just to see ballet on the big screen.Misty Copeland has not only broken down racial barriers to become American Ballet Theatre's first African-American soloist, she's also in tight with Prince. Clearly, she's doing something right.