I'm Misty Copeland and I'm Putting My Whole Self Out There For the First Time

There were many times when I thought it was too hard being the only African American in American Ballet Theatre’s company for a decade.
Publish date:
March 27, 2014
body image, ballet, African American

It’s been amazing to get out there with my new book, "Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina," and see the responses from so many dancers that show up and are inspired by the story. And to have it now be a New York Times bestseller is really insane after such a short period of time.

It has been a lot to put myself out there with my thoughts and experiences, and intimate parts of myself that I hadn’t yet shared. But I feel like I’ve grown a lot just by speaking about certain things, and that it’s really healthy to do that.

I’ve always tried not to share my personal life, so when it comes to social media and things like that, it’s always been about my career and things I’m doing. It’s been interesting to share not only my upbringing but very personal relationships like the one I have with my stepfather, with my mother, and my siblings. And also with my boyfriend, who is mentioned in the book -- his photo is in there -- and who I’ve never really talked about before. It’s the first time I’m saying his name publicly, and I’m just not used to sharing that much of myself.

I knew that I would be sharing my whole story at some point in my life. I just didn’t know that it was going to be now. But when Simon & Schuster approached me about writing a memoir, I understood the benefits of sharing all of myself, because my story is relatable, it’s universal. And I think that so many people can relate to coming from hardship, or maybe having a family life that isn’t perfect and ideal, but knowing with the right guidance and belief in yourself that as an adult you can really turn things around and create a life that you desire.

I was speaking at a bookstore in Chicago and there were about 40 little ballerinas. I had a girl, a white girl, come up to me and say that she had quit dancing –- that there were too many things working against her, like her weight and feelings that she wasn’t good enough. And she broke down into tears, and she said, “I finished the book, and it drove me to start dancing again.”

I had a similar moment to the one that girl had when I wanted to quit dancing. I just thought it was too hard, that it was something I couldn’t get through -- being the only African American in American Ballet Theatre’s company for a decade. And just feeling like maybe I didn’t have all that it took, that there were too many people who just didn’t want to see me on that stage.

There were many times when I thought about joining a company that was predominantly black that would be more comfortable for me. But the more I thought about it, and the more I accepted people into my life who encouraged me not to give up and offered the support and the tools to keep going, I understood that leaving ballet would be failing.

There was one situation in particular when the actress Victoria Rowell, a former ballerina actually, approached me while the company was performing in Hollywood. She left me a note on the callboard. I didn’t know who she was, but she invited me to her home and we sat up all night chatting. It was the first time I saw someone who looked like me, and who had come from a background that wasn’t typical. She was adopted, she trained in classical ballet -- she was a black woman, and she was strong and she was powerful. And that gave me hope.

I understand now how powerful it is for a child to see herself in someone -- to literally be able to say, “I look similar to that person. I can do it.” Victoria Rowell was that person for me.

When you have a career that takes all of you, it’s about finding the right balance. There’s no halfway doing what I do. I think professional athletes and dancers are really a different breed of people. I’ll have my moments when I go away somewhere warm, to the beach or wherever, and for two days just lounge and eat whatever I want, and then I get bored, and also. Moving my body feels good. I’m just not the type of person that’s going to want to sit around and veg out for a month.

In terms of my relationship, it works because my boyfriend accepts who I am. And again, it’s about finding the balance between my career and taking care of us. It’s also his understanding of the path I’m on and his willingness to go along on that journey with me.

My life is pretty normal. I don’t have any weird, extravagant things or people around me. I mean, I have had opportunities to go to parties with Prince, or attend and be honored at the Black Girls Rock! Awards, or to dance with Patti La Belle and TLC, but that’s not like my every day life. I’m pretty ordinary during my down time.

I keep the circle of people in my life really small and supportive. I have a small group of friends. I’m not the kind of person that just has a bunch of random people around me. My time is so precious to me, so when I have spare time, I want to spend time with people that I really love and who really love me.