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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.
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
When most people think of dance students, they imagine lithe children and teenagers waltzing around classrooms with their legs lifted to their ears. It doesn't often cross our minds that dance training can involve an older woman trying to build strength in her body to ward off balance issues, or a middle-aged man who didn't have the confidence to take a dance class as a boy for fear of bullying.
Anybody can begin to learn dance at any age. But it takes a particular type of teacher to share our art form with dancers who have few prospects beyond fun and fitness a few nights a week.
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection