Cool Points: 6, 000 +
Why She’s Cool: She’s the first black female soloist dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in two decades, and only one of three in the company’s history.
Why She’s REALLY Cool: She’s not afraid to talk about the challenges of race and gender and how they’ve effected her career AND she mentors aspiring black ballerinas.
I first became aware of Misty Copeland’s overwhelming coolness after seeing her on the documentary series Day In The Life. It wasn’t just because she was a ballet prodigy (she began dancing at 13, the average starting age is 4) who’d won heaps of prestigious awards, traveled all around the world, and was handpicked by Prince himself to perform at Madison Square Garden. But that in spite of all of that, I had never heard of her.
And no one I knew, knew anyone who had heard of her.
I did know, however, that a dancer of her caliber had managed to escape mainstream media attention not because she was black, but because she was a black ballerina. Because she proposed the very idea that two seemingly conflicting images—the big, barbaric black woman and the elegantly refined ballerina—could coexist within one identity. When marginalized people act in ways that challenge stereotypes, they often go unrecognized because they pose a threat to the status quo (and are too multidimensional to make profitable reality TV stars). And the regal, soft-spoken Misty twirling gracefully in her tutu was so far removed from the typical image of the overaggressive, neck-rolling black woman, it’s no wonder why she remained virtually invisible.
Dominant groups who act in ways that challenge stereotypes, however, become superstars. The Justin Bieber Fever had more to do with a white kid making “urban” music and being brave enough to do the Dougie on national television.
Another cool thing about Misty: she actually acknowledges the fact that she’s black. By which I mean, she isn’t one of those annoying people who never address their token status because they don’t want to “make it about race”. In her appearance on the Melissa Harris-Perry show, she discussed how it impacted what it means to perform:
“It’s a huge part of my daily struggle…I do get a lot of criticism for talking about it as openly and as freely as I do. It’s my experience, it’s apart of who I am, it’s apart of my life and I can’t ignore that.”
She understands that all identities–race, gender, sexual orientation, and the ways in which they intersect have an inevitable effect on the way we live our lives. Kudos, Misty, for providing alternate images of black women we rarely see, and giving inspiration to ballerinas who look like you.