misty copeland - bench

*When the Robertson Treatment first talked to Misty Copeland she was just emerging as a star in the world of classical dance.

Today, as a soloist with America’s #1 ballet company – the American Ballet Theatre, she is at the center of a revolution that has generated a heightened the level of attention to the classical dance world not seen since Mikhail Baryshnikov.

A true cultural phenomenon, the Los Angeles bred dancer is also well on her way to becoming a household name via endorsements deals with consumer brands ranging from Diet Dr. Pepper, Coach and Under Armour. A recent cover subject for Time Magazine, she was also the focus of a segment on the venerable news show 60 Minutes.

Robertson Treatment caught up with the beautiful ballerina to talk about her career and recent memoir, ‘Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.”

Robertson Treatment: What inspired you to write your autobiography at such a young age?

Misty Copeland: I didn’t expect it to happen this soon, but it seemed like the right time when I was approached by Simon and Schuster, based on the way it was presented to me. It wasn’t going to be an end-all to me career, like “This is what I’ve done.” Rather, it’s more focused on how I feel about all my experiences in life and what I’ve learned from them, while I’m still in the midst of my career. So, it’s almost like I’m sharing that, inviting people into my world and bringing them along on a journey that I’m still on.

misty copeland (floor)

RT: You didn’t begin with ballet until you were 13, and yet you’ve made it all the way to the top of the profession. That’s almost unheard of! How hard was that?

MC: It’s extremely difficult, and not an approach I would recommend. But, at the time, I didn’t grasp what it was I was doing. It was just fun, it came naturally to me, and I enjoyed learning something new every single day. So, I didn’t think of it as difficult at the time.

RT: What is your favorite role as a ballerina?

MC: I believe I am yet to dance my favorite role, but I am pretty open to adapting to different characters. Right now, I’ve really enjoyed doing the role of Swanhilde in Coppelia. I’ve had a great process so far finding the character and learning the steps. But I would love to be Odette/Odile in Swan Lake one day. I think that would be the ultimate role.

RT: Do you think audiences still expect the Swan to be played by a white female?

MC: I think that’s most people’s expectation and ideal, because that’s what they’ve always seen in ballet. It’s almost a subconscious thing that makes them think that only a white woman could portray that role. But she’s a swan, she’s a character, so I believe she can be any color.

RT: In the book, you have a recurring theme where you say, “This is for the little brown girls.” What do you mean by that?

MC: I feel like I represent every young dancer, and even non-dancer, who felt they were not accepted by the ballet world. I’d like to think that they can see themselves in me. So, every time I made that statement, I was sort of saying, “I’m doing this for you, so it will be easier for you.”

misty copeland (hat)

RT: You remind me a little of Venus and Serena Williams in how you came from a humble background. They learned to play tennis on public courts in L.A. and you were introduced to ballet, not at a prestigious program, but at your local Boys and Girls Club, also in LA. How did you manage to fare so well without any formal training before your teens?

MC: I think I always felt a connection to music and to movement. Growing up, I was surrounded by R&B and Hip-Hop, and the closest thing I could find to dance was gymnastics which I watched on TV. So, I just used those avenues I found available right in my milieu to express what was inside of me. Ballet was exactly what I was searching for, but my environment definitely made me the dancer and the person that I am today. And the Hip-Hop culture was a big part of it.

RT: What did it feel like to be ignored by the white ballerinas in your dance company when you arrived in New York at the age of 16?

MC: I felt isolated because I didn’t know what the reason was at that age. My being black had never been talked about in the studio where I trained in California. I was just another dancer. When I moved to Manhattan, I first thought I was being singled out because I had trained for such a short period of time. But I was the only black girl.

RT: Who was your biggest influence?

RT: In the ballet world, I definitely have to give credit to Paloma Herrera, because I idolized her in my early years of training. She was everything for me. Then, getting to be in the company alongside her, to be able to face my idol and dance with her on the stage, was just amazing!

RT: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

MC: A ballerina.

RT: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

MC: To have American ballet look like the rainbow.

RT: How do you want to be remembered?

MC: For making a positive change in the ballet world.

misty copeland (pillow)

Postscript: Copeland will make her New York debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake in June 2015.

To order a copy of Life in Motion, visit:


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Grade: B-
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