Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theater’s first African-American prima ballerina, traveled to Havana, Cuba, where she practiced with local dancers and discussed the sport’s lack of diversity. In an in-depth piece by The Undefeated, the 34-year-old tackles a reputation that says people of color do not belong on the stage.
“There’s this stigma in classical ballet that brown people don’t belong” said Copeland. “And that the rich culture comes from Europe. Americans have created a long history now in classical ballet, and I think … we are not really appreciated or acknowledged, for as long as we’ve been a part of it — including African-Americans.”
At the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, where Copeland spent her time teaching some of the island’s most promising ballet dancers, she needs little help communicating with her Spanish-speaking counterparts. “We’re visual learners. It’s easy for us to pick things up in that way. There were certain things … that I had to have translated, but overall we’re speaking the same language of ballet.”
In the end, the thing that resonates most with Copeland is partaking in a space filled with black and brown bodies that contort just like hers, if only for the pure love of it. “They’re doing classical ballet here, and they’re doing it really well,” she said.
Copeland went on to speak on the realities of racism and how she doubts it will ever go away. She wants to continue doing the necessary work of using her voice and platform to push the conversation about race in classical ballet, hoping it doesn’t end with her.
Read story in full, here.