Ballerina Misty Copeland attends American Ballet Theatre's 75th Anniversary Celebration at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on January 21, 2015 in New York City

Ballerina Misty Copeland attends American Ballet Theatre’s 75th Anniversary Celebration at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on January 21, 2015 in New York City

*A lawyer for the mother of ballerina Misty Copeland is contesting part of a story posted to EURweb earlier this week regarding their family’s finances back in the day.

Copeland, a soloist at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, was part of a recent Television Critics Association Press Tour panel for “American Ballet Theatre at 75,” a Ric Burns documentary to premiere May 15 on PBS.

In our story about her appearance, titled “Ballerina Misty Copeland: ‘I Will Push Diversity For as Long as I Live,” Copeland’s mother, Sylvia DelaCerna, took issue with the following line:

“The San Pedro, Calif. native has spoken at length about how her family’s financial limitations kept her out of ballet until age 13, some 10 years after most preeminent ballerinas begin their training.”

The statement summarizes a quote from Copeland’s own memoir, titled Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.


Published on March 4, the book chronicles her rise to stardom against incredible odds, including race, body type and financial difficulties.

Misty writes:

I came from a San Pedro, California, family that didn’t always have enough food to eat, let alone money to spend on a hobby, and it wasn’t until I was 13 years old that I could even take my first ballet class.


Most of my dance peers had grown up immersed in the arts, putting on their first tutus not long after they learned to talk. They had summered in Europe, while I didn’t get my first passport until I was 17. Their families had weekend homes. I had spent part of my adolescence living on the floor of a shabby motel with my single mom.

Regarding EURweb’s reference to this passage in Copeland’s memoir, DelaCerna’s attorney Susan Basko claims, “This is not true.”

Basko writes in an email to EURweb:

[DelaCerna] says that Misty never asked for ballet lessons until she got her first ballet lesson for free at the Boys and Girls Club. Sylvia DelaCerna had a well-paying professional job and paid for many activities and classes for her children and would have paid for ballet lessons for Misty if Misty had ever asked for ballet lessons.

Once Misty took her first class, which was offered for free, she was continuously offered classes on scholarship due to her extraordinary talent. However, there were many other expenses involved, and Misty’s mother, Sylvia DelaCerna, covered many of those expenses.

Sylvia DelaCerna (R) with Misty Copeland (C) and her siblings

Sylvia DelaCerna (R) with Misty Copeland (C) and her siblings

Basko has asked EURweb for a retraction, stating, “If Misty had asked for ballet lessons, her family would have been able to afford the lessons and her mother would have paid for them.”

Copeland’s memoir – which also covers Misty’s unsuccessful attempt at legal emancipation from her mother – paints a different picture. However, the ballerina acknowledges that their financial situation wasn’t always so dire.

Copeland writes:

Often we had no money at all. We would run our hands around the couch cushions and through the carpet to find change. Then we’d go to the corner to see if we could afford something to eat. Eventually, Mommy applied for food stamps.

I’m sure Mommy didn’t believe she was being neglectful. After all, we hadn’t always lived that way, with pallets on the floor. We hadn’t always called a motel — with a lobby window to slide our rent check through — home. We didn’t always sleep around the corner from a highway lined with liquor stores and sketchy taco joints.

Click here to read an extended excerpt from “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” published in the New York Daily News.