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It’s not difficult to see why filmmakers would want to create a biopic of Misty Copeland’s story.
The plot seems tailor-made for Hollywood: A 13-year-old black girl wanders into a ballet class at her local Boys & Girls Club and turns out to be a prodigy. By 18, she joins American Ballet Theatre and sets her sights on becoming a principal, which would make her the first female African American to reach that level at the company. Several obstacles get in her way: weight struggles, career-threatening injuries, the isolation of being black in an overwhelmingly white world. But she perseveres. She seeks out coaches and mentors, and takes back-to-back classes on her days off. She hires manager Gilda Squire and starts landing book deals and national ad campaigns. Finally she’s given the ultimate test: dancing Odette/Odile at Lincoln Center. By this time she’s arguably the most famous dancer in the country. Fans fly to New York just to see her perform. Although she falters on the infamous 32 fouettés, the performance is a triumph, and soon after, it finally happens: She is promoted to principal. So what’s it like once you’ve gotten your picture-perfect Hollywood ending?
Photo by Jayme Thornton
What’s changed for you since becoming a principal?
The schedule is actually a lot less dancing on a daily basis, which is taking some getting used to! But it’s nice to be able to focus on just one part per ballet. The roles are more intense, and there’s a lot of pressure to uphold these standards that so many incredible dancers set over the 75-year history of this company.
Juliet surprised Copeland as her favorite role. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.
Any roles you’re particularly excited for?
Juliet. At this point in my career, it’s my favorite role I’ve ever danced. The experience of getting onstage…there’s no way of preparing for it other than getting out there and living the part as it’s happening. There aren’t very many dancing scenes for her; there’s two big pas de deux, but the bulk of it is acting. It was kind of a shock how much I enjoyed it. Acting turned out to be a strength of mine that I don’t think I knew about.
What will be in your new book, Ballerina Body?
It’s an inside look at all that it takes to get a dancer’s body. Most people, when they think “ballerina body,” have this perception that it’s unhealthy and eating-disordered and too thin. We in the dance world know that’s not the case. I feel like I’ve created my own ballerina body that works for me, and everyone can create their own version of that, their own best self. So it’s sharing different recipes that I cook, cross-training that I do, plus some of my mantras and experiences. Dancers have such strong minds and discipline. So many people can benefit from the tools we have to create a healthy lifestyle.
Are you working on any other projects right now?
I’m launching my own dancewear line called Egal this summer. I created it from my experience as a dancer who doesn’t have a stick figure, who needs support in her dancewear. I’ve been working on it for seven years, so it’s extremely exciting to finally have it be coming out.
Copeland says she never imagined she’d dance Odette. Photo by Darren Thomas/QPAC, Courtesy ABT.
How do you balance outside opportunities with your work at ABT?
I feel like it’s easier when you’re busy to just keep going. But my roles always come first. I only work with brands willing to work around my schedule. But I’ll sacrifice the time with friends, the dinners and hanging out. Right now, I have this amazing platform and I want to take advantage of it and do as much as I can with the time I have.
Has fame changed things for you?
It’s a bit shocking every time I go out onstage and the audience responds in a way that they didn’t four years ago. It’s like, Wow, I can’t believe all these people are so excited. But that’s amazing. I think every ballet audience should be that way.
Has that impacted your relationship to other ABT dancers?
Not to my knowledge! This career is too much work to bring that stuff into the studio with you. And there’s no way to avoid being humbled every single day when you walk into the studio and are surrounded by so much talent.
What’s been the highlight of these past few years?
The promotion. But also all the hard work that went into getting to that point. Beyond proving to Kevin McKenzie, it was about proving to myself that I’m capable of being a Swan Queen and being the Firebird and being Juliet.
One of Copeland’s first breakthroughs: the Firebird. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
Did you doubt that you could do it?
Absolutely. As a corps de ballet member doing Swan Lake, I never saw myself as the Swan Queen. Maybe that’s just a subconscious thing, not seeing many dancers who look like me doing those roles. You just think, Well, that’s just not my path.
What does it feel like knowing you’ve spurred today’s conversations about diversity in ballet?
It’s amazing. And as much negative feedback as I get from that and criticism, none of it matters. If I’m reaching 50 girls that feel like they have a possibility, if people are talking about diversity, that means the world to me. That is so much of my purpose. I think I’m a fine dancer, and I worked my butt off to get here. But what I stand for is so much more than just being a good dancer.
How do you deal with those dance bloggers and critics who post such vehement (and sometimes racist) criticism about you?
It’s really difficult for me not to read it. I’ve had to learn that I can’t let those things affect me. I can’t control how people feel about a subjective art form. Whether the comments are racist or it’s just their opinion, you have to brush it off. As hard as that may be, it’s the only way to not let it get in your head and take away from your ability to perform. All I can do is keep working on myself. And I can take away some of the things I see in those reviews—if it’s something I agree with—and say, “Let me work on that.”
Now that you’ve made principal, what are your goals?
It’s weird, my entire career has been striving for this moment, so to have reached this goal, it’s this strange feeling. It’s almost harder now. It’s a different battle, more internal. I just want to be better. I want to give an amazing performance every time I’m onstage. And to continue the diversity conversation.
Would you change anything about your career?
I really wouldn’t. You know, even all of the injuries I’ve had, I cannot imagine having developed into this dancer without those experiences. That feeling that I have to be onstage again, I have to get better so that I can be better than I was when I left. Even the 15 years it took before I was promoted to principal dancer—I wouldn’t change that. I feel like I’m just now reaching that peak where I’m ready.
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.