Day 5: Misty Copeland

There she was, at five foot, two inches, twirling on her toes in the kitchen.

ballet-1Spinning, spinning, spinning.

How many pirouettes could she do?

Prepare, she whispered to herself.

First position. Second position. Third. Crap, what was the fourth position? Fifth.

Arms extended, hips down, chest up, chin raised toward the ceiling, stretching out the neck. What else could she remember from watching dozens of ballerina clips online? She needed to do something about that arch. Stupid flat foot. Yann Tiersen echoed in the background. Grand jeté. She leaps. She sticks the landing. Hands extended, fingers gently at her sides. She wears a smug grin.

Yes, that was me. When I was younger, I wanted to dance. I wanted to be a ballerina. I wanted to be the girl with the beautiful white tutu, matching tights and pointe shoes. I fancied myself flitting around a large stage, while the audience watched, mesmerised because that’s always how I felt seeing the principal dancers debuting their hard work. Was I ready? Probably not, but it was a lovely dream, nevertheless….

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She stood at five foot, two inches with her curves and lean legs pointed away from her thirteen year old form. She wanted to dance. She wanted to become a ballerina. Her name is Misty Copeland.

 

“Dear candidate, thank you for your application to our ballet academy. Unfortunately, you have not been accepted. You lack the right feet, Achilles tendons, turnout, torso length and bust. You have the wrong body for ballet and at thirteen you are too old to be considered.”

misty8Our series showcases Misty, not only because I have an irrational affinity for ballet, but because of ability to break all sorts of barriers. They say that it’s best, it’s better to begin ballet young. I thought that I had long past reached the age to begin ballet. My silly pipe dreams of awing a crowd with my dancing was dashed. I was too short. I was too flat footed. I was too this and that. Then, I heard about Misty Copeland, who as a rather curvy thirteen year old managed to become one of the American Ballet Theatre’s first female, African-American principal dancers.

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Born ten days after me, in 1982, however “late” she began, the woman was destined to break the mold set forth by centuries of austere rules of ballet, certain requirements to create the perfect swan, Juliet or Sugar Plum Fairy. I don’t particularly dream of becoming a ballet dancer… Perhaps in an alternate universe, I would, but in this one I am elated to know that there is a person in this world who has conquered what seemed unthinkable. Impossible. She beat the odds under the wooden block of her flesh-toned pointe shoe.

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Like many of the Black trailblazers before her, she decided at a young age to become a professional ballet dancer in four years and move to New York. She chose her own way to burn, however, also dealt with race division, class division and loneliness. However overt or not these barriers were, Misty was forced to face them. As a girl, often haunted by loneliness and dividing factors, I admire Misty’s resilience despite the difficulties she faced. Speaking about them, candidly, in front of cameras and interviewers and strangers is not easy.

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I remember being taunted about my psyche growing up, my arms were too muscular, boys would particularly say. You’re so short, girls would constantly remind me, while leaning on my shoulder. Despite whatever intention was meant to come across with these statements, it did very little to boost my self-esteem, as you could imagine. As the only Black girl in my class, in the middle of rural Texas, growing up looking differently and embracing that was a form of rebellion that I did not have. I could not openly accept my Blackness, my body type, my hair, my skin tone, my very person for all that it’s worth. Slowly but surely, that is changing now.

And for that, I have a running list of people to thank – Misty Copeland, especially.

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