Misty Copeland is an American ballet dancer and the first African-American woman to be appointed as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. She was also a member of President Obama's Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition and is an award-winning author.
Copeland was born in 1982, in Kansas City, Missouri. She was the fourth of six siblings, and her family moved frequently, eventually settling in San Pedro, California. At a young age, Copeland developed a love of performance and movement, joining the drill team at her school and eventually becoming captain. Her drill coach suggested Copeland try ballet at the local Boys & Girls Club. At age 12 - much older than most ballerinas when they begin their training - Copeland began to study ballet under Cindy Bradley, who recognized Copeland as a prodigy. Bradley and her family soon became Copeland's hosts as well as her teachers; Copeland would spend the week living at Bradley's home, and the weekends at her mother's. At 14, Copeland won her first solo role.
In 1998, after attending a summer program at the San Francisco Ballet, Copeland's mother encouraged her to move home and cut off contact with Bradley. Worried that she would no longer be able to dance, Copeland sought legal emancipation from her mother. Copeland's mother hired Gloria Allred as her lawyer, and the case blew up in the local press. Copeland eventually dropped her emancipation case once her mother promised she'd always be able to dance, but she was no longer allowed to study with Bradley.
Copeland continued her ballet training and joined the American Ballet Theatre in 2000, at age 18. After a lumbar stress fracture put her out of commission for almost a year, Copeland's doctor advised her that inducing puberty would strengthen her bones (like many ballet dancers, her puberty had been delayed). Copeland agreed and went on birth control pills. The hormones caused her to gain weight, and her figure to change drastically. Pressure to conform to the traditional, stick-thin ballet aesthetic caused Copeland to develop an eating disorder. Within a year, however, her friendships and relationships outside the world of ballet helped her regain confidence in her body.
She said, "My curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one. I started dancing with confidence and joy, and soon the staff at ABT began giving me positive feedback again. And I think I changed everyone’s mind about what a perfect dancer is supposed to look like."
By 2007, Copeland was a soloist with ABT, and in 2015, she became the first black woman to play the dual role of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. That year, she became the first African-American woman appointed principal dancer in ABT. Perhaps most notably, Mattel released a Misty Copeland Barbie doll in 2016. The doll is part of their Sheroes line, which celebrates boundary-breaking women.