Misty Copeland isn't just a buzzy name anymore, she's an icon. In 2015, Copeland made history as the first African-American dancer to be promoted to principal in American Ballet Theatre's 75-year history. She's also the first and only ballet dancer to be recognized as an Under Armour athlete. Copeland has used her platform to be outspoken about body image and acceptance in her profession. To many people, her success is a sign that the ballet world is finally becoming more welcoming of diversity.
Unfortunately, ballet dancers are often left out of the conversation about body positivity, because there's an assumption that they abuse their bodies to achieve the caliber of athleticism that the art form requires. But Copeland says that's far from the case. As someone poised at the forefront of dance and sports, we wanted to know: How does body positivity fit into her world?
Copeland shared her thoughts with us an event unveiling Under Armour's newest campaign, Unlike Any, which celebrates female athletes that rise above gender comparisons and stand on their own. Under Armour also paired each featured athlete with a spoken word artist, to create a video tribute that honors their accomplishments. Copeland's powerful video (below) is set to a poem by Saul Williams, an American poet and rapper. In her own words, here's what Copeland had to say about her unique approach to body positivity in her evolving industry.
What is your personal definition of body positivity?
"For me, it's never about this kind of end result of looking a certain way. It's about the process and the journey of being your healthiest self, whatever that means for you. I've done so much exploring in different [lifestyles]. I stopped eating meat, maybe seven years ago. Now I'm kind of dipping my toes in the vegan lifestyle.
"I think it's really just about how you feel inside and how your body responds and reacts to whatever it is you're fueling it with. But, being an athlete, I feel like I have an advantage of understanding and being in touch with my body and how it responds, and how it performs. To me, that's what's most important."
Do you think there can be body positivity within the ballet world?
"Yes, absolutely! I think that it's just a matter of having the conversation, and I think it already exists. I think there's such diversity in body types, it's just not talked about or celebrated. It's just understood that, Oh you have to look this way. This is what we're looking for. Your legs have to be this long. You have to be this thin. When it comes down to it, the performers that are making an impact on the dance world and on the ballet world aren't those things. It's how they make you feel. It doesn't matter their proportions, and so many of them succeed because they have that fight and fire inside of them. Maybe because they don't have this typical, prissy, perfect ballet body."
The dance world can feel like a pressure cooker. What advice would you give an aspiring dancer — or anyone else — who feels like their whole life and career is riding on one audition, performance, or opportunity?
"Be present and take advantage of the moment. When companies, directors, and teachers are looking at students and the possibility of them being a professional, it's not as black and white as I think they think it is. It's not even about the performance that they see in front of them, it's the potential, how you carry yourself, and it's how you are with others — people pay attention to those things. It's not about pushing someone aside to get in the front and be seen; all of these things matter when you're working in a company.
"To me, it's about staying true to who you are, and just being present in the moment and showing your best self there in that moment. Not trying to be perfect — because you can't be. It's not possible."