In 2013, TaKiyah Wallace started Brown Girls Do Ballet as a photography project aimed at highlighting women of color in the dance world. As a mom of a tiny dancer and a fan of the art form herself, Wallace was aware of the lack of coverage dancers of color received.
Three years later Wallace runs a popular Instagram account with more than 80,000 followers that features brown ballerinas, and her organization supports young dancers by not only giving them a platform to shine, but also providing scholarships to help young girls continue their studies. Now, Brown Girls Do Ballet is releasing a book.
The 33-year-old gave a heart-touching speech to a crowd of 500, saying:
“Growing up in the atmospheres that I grew up in, San Pedro was the only place I ever considered home,” Copeland said, tearing up. “There really hasn’t been a place that’s replaced that in my heart since I lived here and I’m so proud, and I never forget San Pedro.”
Misty is a perfect example of where hard work, perseverance, and pursuing your dreams full throttle can take you. Like so many other black women, the odds were stacked against her racially and economically. She almost had to quit her craft because her parents didn’t have a car to take her to and from practice. But she didn’t give up, and now she’s a legend…and a street!
The ballerina celebrated by posting on her IG page:
NEW YORK (AP) — “Swan Lake” is always one of the most popular ballets for dance fans. But the whoops and cheers from a packed crowd at the Metropolitan Opera House signaled something more this time.
There was palpable emotion and a clear sense of history in the air as Misty Copeland made her New York debut Wednesday in the lead role, a key moment for the popular ballerina who many hope will soon become American Ballet Theater‘s first black principal dancer.
Copeland, 32, currently a soloist at the company, earned loud ovations after her every solo in the dual role of Odette/Odile — one of the most challenging roles in ballet and one considered an essential part of a star ballerina’s repertoire.
The dancer, who has become a leading voice for diversity in her art form and amassed a following inside the dance world and out, had performed the role with ABT on tour in Australia, and as a guest with the Washington Ballet. But Wednesday’s performance was considered huge because it was at ABT’s home, and signaled a clear step on the path to her stated goal: making history as a principal dancer.
The fact that this was no simple “Swan Lake” was clear at the curtain calls, with Copeland greeted onstage by two fellow black dancers who’ve made their own history.
First came Lauren Anderson, a retired dancer with Houston Ballet, who became the first black principal there in 1990. After Anderson, 50, had lifted Copeland off her feet in a hug, out came Raven Wilkinson, who danced with the famed touring company Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the 1950s and later joined the Dutch National Ballet. Wilkinson, 80, curtseyed to Copeland, who returned the gesture.
Damian Woetzel, director of the Vail International Dance Festival, called the performance “a long overdue milestone in ballet.”
“With elegance and seriousness, Misty made a historic breakthrough,” said Woetzel, a former principal at New York City Ballet. “It was an honor to be there.”
The Missouri-born Copeland’s recent rise to fame includes being named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People this year. The magazine put her on the cover and called her “ballet’s breakout star.” She also came out last year with a best-selling memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” in which she recounted the challenges she faced on the road to her hard-won perch in ballet, and which has been optioned for a movie. She also was the subject of a documentary at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
She’s been featured in a popular ad for Under Armour sportswear that shows her leaping and spinning in a studio, while a narrator recounts some of the negative feedback she received as a youngster, when she was told she had the wrong body for ballet and had started too late (she was 13).
Copeland also has appeared as a guest host on the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance” and was a presenter at this year’s Tony awards.
History will be made at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater on the evening of Thursday, April 9, when Misty Copeland, a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, joins Brooklyn Mack of the Washington Ballet in a performance of Swan Lake. Copeland and Mack, both African American, will go where no dancers of color have gone before. They will become the first African Americans to dance the leading roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried respectively in the traditional ballet.
There should be little doubt that Copeland—a rising star at the American Ballet Theater who gained notoriety after appearing in a widely noticed Under Armour advertising campaign—and Mack—trained at Washington’s Kirov Academy of Ballet and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet—have demonstrated ample talent on ballet stages around the world. Their appearance as leads in Swan Lake would be seen merely as appropriate next steps in their expanding careers if they were white.
Their success should remind all Washingtonians of the pioneering role that D.C. has played in promoting African-American dance. As dance historian Tamara Brown has noted, the juxtaposition of academic training at Howard University and the numerous popular theaters along U Street nurtured a creative center for African-American dance during much of the 20th century. Howard University’s Maryrose Reeves Allen stood at the heart of this energetic scene.
Allen, who was born in Louisville, Ky., in 1899, earned her college degree at the Sargent School in Massachusetts before teaching summer school at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, then the country’s leading center for the study of African dance. She joined the Howard faculty in 1925 as the director of a new physical education program for women.
Allen’s arrival coincided with the heyday of the Howard University Players under the leadership of T. Montgomery Gregory and Alain Locke. Two years after coming to the Howard campus, Allen established a group that would grow to become the Howard University Dance Ensemble, one of the era’s most inspired African-American companies.
Allen’s dancers penetrated the world of white concert dance by the 1950s, performing with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington and on many integrated stages in New York City. Her students—including Debbie Allen, Chuck Davis, Melvin Deal, Ulysses Dove and George Faison—populated major classical and modern dance companies throughout the U.S., from Broadway stages to Hollywood studios. They nurtured a lively dance scene in Washington that spawned the Capitol Ballet and professional companies associated with the Black Arts Movement during the 1960s and 1970s.
Maryrose Reeves Allen remained active in the Howard University and dance communities after her retirement in 1967. In 1991, one year before Allen’s death, Howard became the first historically black university to offer a degree in dance through its Department of Theatre Arts. Her spirit will be very much present at the Kennedy Center as Copeland and Mack step center stage.
Cable channel Oxygen has put into development a docuseries following renowned ballerina Misty Copeland.
The show, tentatively titled “The Misty Copeland Project,” follows talented hopefuls from diverse backgrounds as they descend upon New York to take on the next major step in their ballet careers. Who better to train and mentor them than Copeland — the celebrated ballerina who herself has defied all odds and shattered boundaries by overcoming the cultural pressures of professional ballet.
Copeland, who began taking ballet lessons on the basketball court of a Boys & Girls Club at age 13 and was considered a prodigy, made history by becoming the second African-American female soloist in the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. With the opportunity of a lifetime and chance to catapult to the top of the ballet world, these aspiring dancers’ passion, commitment and hard work will be center stage in Misty’s Master Class.
The show is one of four new reality programs added at the NBCUniversal-owned network as part of its rebranded push for young, multicultural women ages 18-34, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. Other new shows follow young Americans teaching English abroad, aspiring celebrity vloggers and groups of friends dishing about current events during cocktail hour.
“From the unbelievably inspirational and talented Misty Copeland, to the bold young women experiencing life abroad, the new development slate appeals to a multitude of female viewers,” said Cori Abraham, senior vp development and international at Oxygen Media. “These projects embrace the new Oxygen programming filter, which focuses on real characters who are on a journey to seek out new experiences and follow their true passions in life.”
Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Hillary in the TV show “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” is raising funds for a new animated short about Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina and soloist to ever perform at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera. In Collins’ journey, she overcame many great obstacles; at the age 15, the young dancer was asked to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but only if she performed in whiteface.
After refusing to dance in whiteface, Collins went on to become a renowned Prima Ballerina, winning awards for her performances on Broadway. In 1950, Collins was honored with the Best Dancer of Broadway title, making Collins a pioneer in this industry for paving the way for other black dancers and companies such as Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theater of Harlem.
The short story will be narrated by actor/comedian/producer Chris Rock and presented by Parsons’ founded award-winning organization Sweet Blackberry, whose mission is to educate kids on the achievements of African Americans with inspiring true stories.
So far, the project’s Kickstarter page shows 18 days left to go in the campaign, with over $16,000 already pledged of its $75,000 goal.
For more information on Sweet Blackberry, click here to see the Kickstarter video and contribute!