Misty Copeland Is Calling for More Recognition for African-American Ballerinas

August 9, 2018

Last night, Misty Copeland posted a call to action in a pair of Instagram posts, calling for her followers to share the names of African-American ballerinas.

The News & Observer article that inspired this request is a 2016 profile of Debra Austin, who was a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet in the ’80s—the first female African-American dancer to reach that rank in a major American ballet company. She was also the first African-American female dancer at New York City Ballet. Yet Austin’s achievements are rarely mentioned or celebrated, because the history of black ballet dancers has been so poorly preserved.

It’s easy to see why Copeland would want to recognize those who came before her as well as others breaking boundaries alongside her today: As dance’s biggest mainstream celebrity right now, she’s often mistaken as “the only” or “the first” black ballet star by those who don’t know any better.

And we love that she’s dedicated to giving others credit. But! The list she’s trying to create already exists: Dance Magazine contributing editor Theresa Ruth Howard (who is one of the dancers that Copeland hashtags) had the same idea three years ago, and has been putting together an impressive “Roll Call” ever since that today comprises 340 black ballet dancers. Many entries include bios, photos, links to reviews and profiles, and videos. It’s an incredible resource that anyone who wants to learn more should check out.

We give Copeland all the kudos for fighting for more recognition—but there’s no need to start from scratch.