Misty Copeland On Trolls, Therapy & The Fouettés That Went Viral

Photo: Jonny Nunez/WireImage..
Last week, Misty Copeland posted a screenshot of a tweet that someone mentioned her in on her Instagram. "THIS is why @mistyonpointe is the WORST and why it's an embarrassment to @ABTBallet to even have her on the roster, much less as a principal dancer," the tweet, which has since been deleted, reads. "No wonder the rest of the world thinks American ballet is a joke." The person also included a bootleg link of Copeland performing a section of the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake, while on tour with American Ballet Theatre in Singapore.
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The pas de deux ends with Odile, the Black Swan, performing 32 consecutive fouettés. This choreography is iconic in classical ballet because it requires impressive technical acumen (you have to do all of the turns on one leg without pausing or moving around the stage), and because it happens at the climax of an emotionally draining, three-hour, four-act ballet. Some say being able to perform 32 fouettés is the mark of a true prima ballerina. But, during this performance, Copeland didn't complete the turns.
In response, Copeland posted two lengthy captions, saying that she "will forever be a work in progress," acknowledging her platform, and defending her place in the company. "As a Black woman and as a ballerina given the chance to take on this role, I often question if I deserve to perform this role. My conclusion, I do. Some of the most memorable Swan Queens in history have brought so much more to this role without having to present the incredible and evolved technique of today by doing insane tricks that bring some to see Swan Lake." Even her clapbacks are classy.

Link in my profile. I’m happy to share this because I will forever be a work in progress and will never stop learning. I learn from seeing myself on film and rarely get to. So thank you. I will always reiterate that I am by no means the best in ballet. I understand my position and what I represent. I know that I’m in a very unique position and have been given a rare platform. All I’ve ever wanted is to bring ballet to more people and to help to diversify it. I’ve worked extremely hard to be where I am and I believe that what I bring to the table is authentic artistry with a unique point of view through my life experiences, and my unusual path and upbringing. Also as a black woman and black ballerina. I would love to see all of the incredible deserving black dancers get the opportunities that I have. I will forever be humbled and extremely grateful for the fact that I get to do what I love for a living, that I get to do all of the incredible roles that I do, in particular Swan Queen. There are so many ballerinas that never get to experience dancing the most iconic and demanding role in a ballerinas repertoire. I have so so so much respect for what I do and for the ballerinas I stand on the shoulders of. I’m in awe everyday that I am a part of such an incredible art form that has changed and enriched my life in so many ways and that I get to do it all with ABT. I don’t decide who’s promoted or what roles I dance. I never envisioned myself as the Swan Queen after being in the company for almost 15 years before i was given the opportunity. I have such deep and conflicting feelings connected to Swan Lake. As a black woman and as a ballerina given the chance to take on this role. I often question if I deserve to perform this role. My conclusion, I do. Some of the most memorable Swan Queens in history have brought so much more to this role without having to present the incredible and evolved technique of today by doing insane tricks that bring some to see Swan Lake. For the anticipated 32 fouettés. But it is so much more than that.

A post shared by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

Copeland tells Refinery29 that when you're a ballerina, being emotionally vulnerable and sensitive comes with the job. "At the same time, that can just open you up to so much criticism," she says. "It's such a fine line: I wouldn't be able to go on stage, and just be in the moment, and [perform] if I had this hard exterior." Although she tries not to read reviews, sometimes, like in the case of this tweet, they come to her, and she tries to make the most of it.
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"You can learn from everything, and to me it was just an opportunity to share with people that don’t know a lot about the ballet world that there’s so much nuanced stuff that goes into what we do," she says.
In 2014, Copeland became the first ballet dancer to be sponsored by Under Armour, putting her on a roster with elite athletes like Steph Curry and Lindsey Vonn. "We're all underdogs in some way, yet we're in the top of our fields," she says. While Copeland is a sponsored athlete, she's also an artist — although with ballet the titles can get blurred. "We're expected to be these incredible athletes, then people think we're machines," she says. "At the same time, we have to be this amazing actress on stage." But, she says having the platform as a spokesperson has allowed her to show people the mistakes and behind-the-scenes moments that don't make it to the stage. "We're all human beings, and we fall, we fail, and we get back up and it makes us stronger," she says.

We're expected to be these incredible athletes, then people think we're machines. At the same time, we have to be this amazing actress on stage.

Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre Principal
Being the face of ballet also means occasionally dealing with internet trolls who feel licensed to give their opinions on her performances. "You have to be mentally strong, have your emotions in check, and know when to let it go and rein it in," she says. Keeping her distance from reviews is one way she prioritizes mental health, but she's also a big believer in therapy. "There are sports therapists that are incredible," she says. "[They] just allow you to kind of go there and visit all the things, that may be your insecurities, that creep in and just embrace them and not be something that can weigh you down or tear you apart when you need to perform," she says.
Another thing that keeps Copeland grounded is having a meditative practice, which for her, is taking ballet class. At the end of the day, Copeland is not going to let one judgmental person on Twitter keep her from her ballet. Or, as one writer put it, she "twirls on her haters" like the Beyoncé of ballet should.

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