Misty Copeland’s unlikely success redefines ballet

She didn’t start ballet until she was 13. Conventional wisdom said it was too late for her to begin, and her body was all wrong.

Fast forward through 20 years of practice and determination, and she is now principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT) company in New York and celebrated globally for her exquisite performances.

So much for conventional wisdom.

Misty Copeland has broken every stereotype associated with ballet, including race. Because in addition to purportedly having the wrong body type and starting too late, she is also the first black principal dancer in the 75-year history of the ABT. In fact, she’s the first with any major international ballet company ever.

Her immense accomplishment is being widely recognized. In 2015, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world and featured her on the cover of their April issue. Under Armour told her story in a television ad entitled “I Will What I Want” that quickly went viral online, and PBS television broadcast an enthralling documentary on her life called “A Ballerina’s Tale”.

What should we make of Misty Copeland’s story? Does this mean that anyone who starts ballet at age 13 can become a professional dancer and reach global status? No, not at all. The recipe for talent is a complex and unpredictable elixir of desire, perseverance, training, and genetics.

But Misty Copeland’s story should give parents — and dance instructors everywhere — cause to reflect on any assumptions they may have about the physical talent and movement potential of the children under their care and tutelage.

Bravo, Misty Copeland. Here’s hoping that your story inspires new generations of dancers everywhere.

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