“I took my first ballet class on a basketball court at the Boys & Girls Club,” says Misty Copeland, the first black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre.
So it’s a full-circle moment now that Copeland, as one of Variety’s Power of Women honorees, has chosen to highlight Project Plie, the diversity initiative for which ABT has partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of America.
Project Plie aims to create an infrastructure of training and support for underrepresented communities in the classical ballet world. As part of the program, Boys & Girls Clubs around the U.S. host activities and master classes led by teachers certified in the ABT training curriculum.
Copeland, the Kansas City native whose entree into ballet was enabled by the encouragement and training of a local teacher, knows the importance of mentorship, especially for aspiring dancers of color who might not see a place for themselves in a classical ballet world that is still mostly white.
“It’s so much a part of my upbringing and my experience as a professional dancer,” she says. “I was the only African-American woman at ABT for a decade, and so much of what I do now is mentoring young minority dancers and trying to be a support system for them. It feeds me as an artist and as a person, and I learn more and more about myself and what’s lacking and what needs to be done in the professional ballet world.”
She doesn’t teach any of those classes at the Boys & Girls Clubs — because she can’t. “I’m a dancer at ABT, but I’m not certified in the training curriculum!” she laughs. “But I stop in and say hi to all of the kids, and get them excited about the possibility of being a part of something so much bigger than them.
Watch below as Copeland talks about her biggest obstacles in the ballet world, her worst injury, her signature moves in the dance club and more.