Misty Copeland - Revolutionary Women

31 Days of Revolutionary Women, #20: Misty Copeland

By Infinite Milam

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll be posting one story each day of March written by local citizen journalists about a revolutionary woman from history or today who has inspired them as women.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in San Pedro, California, Misty Copeland discovered ballet at the “late” age of 13. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe only three months after her first dance class and within a year of dancing professionally – a feat unheard of. 

I don’t need to mention her struggles off stage to show her greatness, but I will. She would tell you it is a part of her story. Misty, a daughter of a single mother, lived with five siblings in a motel room when she began her dance career. Throughout her career she battled with being outside the “mold” of the image of the “ballerina”, in an industry that was in constant criticism of her skin color and physique. Misty practiced a relentless physical, mental and emotional fitness. In her insistence that the power to “will what you want” is within everyone, she changed lives. Misty broke barriers and built a doorway for herself, for brown girls… for all people, really.

Misty joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in April 2001, and in August 2007 became the company’s second African-American female soloist, the first in two decades. In June 2015, Misty made history as the first African-American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. It is said that her most important role was performing the title role in Firebird. These are just a few amongst many other achievements. This poem, The Unlikely Ballerina, is dedicated to her, in all of her excellence, strength and courage.

The Unlikely Ballerina

I imagine you were told…
You will have to build a fire for this.
For some things require heat.

Some things, require the sacred territory of the heart, the transformational fire within…
The burning and aching of your soul.

I imagine you were told…
You will need courage for this.
Not that of a fairytale,
but yes the arduous kind.
The kind that brings you to your knees, shaking from the inside out, as you meet your fear, then choose to pass through.

I often wonder if you met your excellence in the whispering winds that you glide, leap and graciously move through.

I often wonder, Black Swan, brown skin…
bright light they tried to dim…

…Is the well that nursed you… full of rich brown girls like you?
And, do the brown girls… black swans, you see in the audience, see YOU in their reflection?

How does it feel to give birth to what is RIGHT,
to remove what is LEFT,
of a great shedding?

I often wonder…
How does it feel to be a woman on Fire… Bird?
An unlikely ballerina, un-like no other?

By Infinite Milam

Infinite Milam is a Seattle based educator, activist, writer, visual and performance artist. Her work aims to reflect the journey of life, in themes of creation, celebration and self inquiry. Her passion for cross-cultural studies and social justice has taken her across the globe to explore practices and iconographies that support peace and community development.

Featured Image: By Gilda N. Squire, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0