Re-Setting The Barre: Body Image [Part 2]

Misty Copeland

Hello there, and welcome back to my blog! Today, I will be covering body image part two. In case you missed last week’s edition, here is a little recap: Marie Camargo is known for setting the trend of shorter hemmed tutus, pointe shoes without heels, and performing techniques originally only executed by males. With her light-skin tone and lean figure, she quickly became and remains an iconic figure in the ballet world.

Now before we start discussing body image, I want you to close your eyes (for just a few seconds) and visualize a doctor (it doesn’t need to be your doctor, just let your brain form an image of a random doctor). Now open them. Who did you see? Did you happen to visualize a male doctor? Not uncommon. Typically, males are associated with authoritative roles. Similarly, when you are asked to visualize a ballerina — you will most likely form the image of a fairly young, slim, light-skinned dancer wearing pink tights with her hair in a bun. Very rarely will anyone say they visualized a ballerina as someone with a more athletic figure and a darker skin tone. Misty Copeland is slowly shifting these norms and is introducing diversity into the scene of ballet in more ways than one.

Ballet discovered Misty when she took a class based on a recommendation from one of her mentors. Although she thought she was doing every pose incorrectly in her first lesson, her mentor/dance instructor at the time noticed she had a natural talent. At the age of fourteen, after only having one year of experience, Misty was on pointe (dancers normally take three to six years to graduate to pointe). After moving in with her coach, she embraced ballet as her life in a way that only dancers understand.

In 2001, she joined the American Ballet Theatre and six years later was appointed a soloist (think of this role as Vice President). Throughout all of her accomplishments, she kept her goal of becoming the first African American female principal (the highest rank in ballet; AKA: President) dancer in close sight. Unfortunately, like most dancers, she endured a few injuries.

One of her injuries prevented her from dancing for an entire year (which is ages in the dance world). However, her biggest obstacle was overcoming the scrutiny of the company when she was told she should lengthen (code for lose weight). Her body was once ideal for ballet, but after puberty she became curvier and developed a larger bust than most of the girls in her cohort.

Injuries are normally the cause of an end to a dancers career. In Misty’s case, it was the solidarity in the studio from the lack of African Americans, that caused her to feel as if the walls were closing in on her. But she used all of her strength (I mean, do you see those muscles?!?) to push those walls, boundaries, and stereotypes until she made it on stage.

On June 2015, Misty’s dream came true when ABT promoted her to principal dancer.

It’s not only Misty’s race that has attracted the spotlight, but also her late start in ballet and most noteworthy her talent and resilience, that has now transformed her into a magnificent ballerina.