Misty Copeland Becomes First Black Female Principle Dancer at American Ballet Theatre

Misty Copeland made history today (June 30, 2015), as she was promoted by the American Ballet Theatre, becoming the first African-American female principal dancer in their 75-year history.

The 32-year-old has been with the company since 2001 and danced as a soloist when she was 8 years young. She made the cover of TIME magazine this year and was named one of their 100 most influential people of 2015, was profiled by “60 Minutes,” is one of ballet’s most recognizable faces, and has written both a memoir and a children’s book, Firebird She boasts an Instagram following of over half a million followers, and stars in an Under Armour commercial that received over 8 million views.

CNN notes that since becoming a soloist in 2007, “she has been outspoken about her desire to become the first black woman to be named a principal dancer at the company.” She had written in her 2014 memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, putting her fears directly into the public spotlight, “My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company. That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.” And today, she’s been promoted to the highest rank at the American Ballet Theatre, achieving her dreams and making history in the process. 

  @underarmour @underarmourwomen   A photo posted by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

At the TIME 100 Gala in April, Copeland made a toast saying,

Something that my mother instilled in me, as a biracial woman herself, and me being biracial, was that the world was going to view me as a black woman, no matter what I decided to do.

I had no idea that that was going to be my truth at some point in my life, when I moved to New York City at 17 years old and joined American Ballet Theater and realized I was the only African American woman in a company of 80 dancers.

I never saw a ballerina who looked like me before…And I’m here to be a vessel for all these brown ballerinas who have come before me.

The fact that the American Ballet Theatre has never had an African-American principle dancer in its 75 year history is unquestionably troubling, and the New York Times notes further,

That race could still be such an issue in 2015 — and African-American dancers still so rarely seen at elite ballet companies — has been depressing to many dancegoers, and has led to impassioned discussions in the dance world and beyond about race, stereotypes and image.

More than a half-century has passed since the pioneering black dancer Arthur Mitchell broke through the color barrier and became a principal dancer at New York City Ballet in 1962, and a generation has elapsed since Lauren Anderson became the first African-American principal at Houston Ballet, in 1990. But City Ballet has had only two black principal dancers in its history, both men: Mr. Mitchell and Albert Evans, who died last week. And Ballet Theater officials said that the company’s only African-American principal dancer before now was Desmond Richardson, who joined as a principal in 1997.

History is beautiful. Congrats @Mistyonpointe, on being named American Ballet Theatre Principal. #IWILLWHATIWANT pic.twitter.com/PnxDM4BDEo

Congratulations Misty Copeland! So proud.