Black Ballerinas

Dance Weekly: Race and ballet

A documentary about the great Misty Copeland reminds us that race problems extend to ballet

Screening Thursday night at the Hollywood Theatre is the movie “A Ballerina’s Tale—The Incredible Rise of Misty Copeland” directed by Nelson George, part of the Portland Black Film Festival in partnership with Oregon Ballet Theatre. The film will be introduced by Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin Irving and OBT dancer Jordan Kindell. I interviewed Kindell back in the summer as part of a boys in ballet article I wrote for Artslandia.

Misty Copeland is the first African-American woman to be promoted to the rank of principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in New York City. But for some, she might only be known for her inspiring and powerful commercials and advertisements for the fitness clothing line Under Armour. In her most popular commercial, Copeland flies across the screen, a strong, chiseled beautiful body in motion. In the accompanying voiceover, a young girl reads a rejection letter from a ballet school. The letter says she has the wrong body type for ballet and at thirteen is too old to be considered. Copeland dancing puts the lie to it: We understand that the rejection is based on the girl’s race.


Misty Copeland, Principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Photo courtesy of “A Ballerina’s Tale.”

I get choked up every time I watch this commercial. Like so many dancers everywhere I can relate—too old, not the right body type, not quite “right”—and I feel charged and empowered by the company’s message: “I will what I want.” I secretly hope (not so secret now) that if I wear Under Armor clothing, I too will have the courage of my convictions, just like Copeland. Oh, and look and dance like her, too!


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