Since opening my blog, I have been creating posts, conducting interviews, and seeking out stories, which will inspire and motivate you to follow your dreams.. But if there is only one story on my blog that you have time to read – it should be this one.
Before I go into more detail, let me take a moment to translate one of the most popular and award-winning ad campaigns in the States. You can watch it here:
The young teen voice reads a rejection letter:
“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 13, you are too old to be considered.”
These words and similar words of rejection were received by thirteen-year-old Misty Copeland. But last month, Misty Copeland made her New York debut in the double role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake,” considered the premier ballet role in the world. Not only did Misty take the stage at the American Ballet Theater at the Metropolitan Opera House, she took the world by storm, when a week later, she became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Company. ABT is the most prestigious ballet company in the world.
The list of her accomplishments are too many for this post, but Time Magazine summed it up best by naming Misty, 32, as one of the100 most influential people in the world. They even placed her on their iconic cover.
FLASHBACK to the thirteen-year-old Misty who, instead of receiving incredible praise, was being faced with multiple rejections and criticism. At this point, Misty could have easily given up on her dream, but she didn’t
Some consider Misty a prodigy, but she would need more than natural talent to overcome the obstacles that stood in her way. No one can argue that had she been born white, her journey to success in the ballet world would have been much different.
Classical ballet and the American Ballet Theatre Company are one of the most conservative institutions in the US. Ballerinas not only have to be amazing dancers, but they traditionally fit a certain look and body type (very skinny, small breasted, thin hipped and white).
Misty has an amazing body, but it is not considered thin enough for classical ballet. She has beautiful curves, that most women would die for, but it is not the “right” shape for a ballerina. And her flawless skin tone and complexion is enviable but in the ballet world it can be considered the “wrong” color.
Most people in her situation would simply just give up their dream of ballet and focus on becoming a modern dancer, where these traits are more readily accepted.
But Misty isn’t one to let negativity get in her way. Not only did Misty NOT give up, she set out to prove to everyone, that despite her unconventional looks and shape, she could be the best ballet dancer in the world. And Misty did just that. Not only was she named the first African American principal dancer; she changed the face of American Ballet…forever. One could argue that has done much more for promoting ballet than Baryshnikov or any other dancer has – and she has done it with such grace that it almost seems effortless.
But it was far from easy.
Misty had to overcome many obstacles, probably more than any of us. I urge you to pick up a copy of her memoir (Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina) and read first hand about her trials and tribulations. Her story is full of inspirational moments as she is faced with challenge after challenge.
I was moved to tears while reading about Misty overcoming obstacle after obstacle to finally be selected as a soloist in the American Ballet Theater in New York City. In the months leading up to her biggest role to that point, the title role in the ballet Firebird, Misty injured her leg. She performed despite the pain. Afterwords, she learned that she had stress fractures on her tibia that would require surgery and that she may never dance again.
I found myself asking “when will life finally get easier for her?” But Misty isn’t one to ask questions like that; she realized that life never truly becomes easier so it’s essential to keep moving forward no matter what.
The only real tragedy would be to give up your dreams.
I met Misty a couple of years before she was selected as one the 100 most influential people in the world, but like the best of the best, she hasn’t changed since then. That is to say, she is still very down to earth, extremely sweet and very thoughtful – so much so, that even after being in the world’s spotlight – being pulled this way and that, Misty still happily agreed to an interview with me.
This is a woman who, even after giving interviews to the NY Times, Time Magazine, Huffington Post, and CNN, will still take the time to share her story with a little Polish blog you may know as “Little Town Shoes”…. Because this is who Misty is. She changes the world but she doesn’t let it change her…
Q: Misty, after reading your book, watching all your interviews, I am struck by your calmness and your ability to be grounded even during the most extreme moments (both good and bad)
How do you manage to maintain such gracefulness under nearly any circumstance?
Misty: Well thank you. Lol. I try my best to really think about things before I react and respond. I try to consider people’s perspectives and not just my own. I remind myself everyday just how lucky I am to do what I love! I feel so fortunate and I’m just trying to take my life one day at a time.
Q.: In your book, you speak about a moment in your career that you wanted to just give up. Despite being told you didn’t have the right body shape or color of skin, how did you manage to continue?
Misty: I had met my boyfriend Olu in a very critical time in my growth as a young adult. He definitely was my primary source of support. Once he came into my life and I was more open to being vulnerable, accepting help, it all came flooding in. Different mentors throughout my life have supported and guided me to remember that I do have the strength, courage and talent to do whatever I want to do.
Q: I’m very impressed by your accomplishments and by your attitude. Your approach to obstacles is unquestionably inspirational. Instead of complaining, you say “life is not easy, it helped me to become a better dancer.”
Where did you learn this attitude? Can it be taught?
Misty: From my mother and my siblings. I think you can learn this from experience or from being empathetic towards others. The Copeland family has survived a lot and had we stopped and felt sorry for ourselves we wouldn’t have been able to go on.
Q: Ballet, Broadway, writing books (memoir, children’s book) being the subject of a documentary… How do you even manage to find the time do it all? Do you have secret to scheduling your time?
Misty: Ballet is number one, everything else is scheduled in the small windows when I’m not in the studio taking class, rehearsing, on stage or on tour. Lol. I know that most of the time I have to work overtime to do everything that I want to. And I still can’t believe I even have the opportunity to do all of this on top of living out my dream as a ballerina with ABT! It’s insane. But I sacrifice a lot of social and free time for it.
Q: You seem to have done it all…Now what?
Misty: Far from it. Lol. I will never reach perfection. I will never be the best dancer or artist. I will be growing until the day I retire. I will push myself in different ventures that I believe will make me a better artist, dancer and person. I know I will never let myself be complacent I life.
Q: You moved to New York to dance for ABT, and you still live in the city. What do you love about New York?
What are some of your favorite places in the city?
Misty: It’s hard to remember anymore. It’s become home and it seems it’s all I know. California is a distant memory. I was 17 when I moved to NYC . I’m now 32. But I do know I can’t see myself living anywhere else. I love the food, the fashion, art, the intelligence of this city and the people that live in it. It’s so exciting to be around. I love Intermix, Bergdorf Goodman, I eat at Landmark UWS, Cafe Luxembourg, Chowder House, The Smith UWS. I also love the Jimmy at the James Hotel in the summer for the rooftop view and pool. And of course the Metropolitan Opera House!
Q: Any advice for anyone coming to NYC looking to follow their own dreams?
Misty: Dive in, give yourself time to adjust, be out and about, you will learn so much from this city and the people. Take advantage of the resources around you and the relationships you build!
Misty’s book Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina is now available. Stop what you’re doing right now, and go get it, read it and get inspired! I keep it on my night table as a remember not to give up when things get a bit harder than I think I can handle.
You can follow Misty on instagram and catch her in Broadway’s “ON THE TOWN” this summer.