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How Misty Copeland became principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre

Our series “How I became a …” digs into the stories of accomplished and influential people, finding out how they got to where they are in their careers.

When Misty Copeland took her very first ballerina class on the basketball court at the Boys & Girls Club, her life began clicking into place. Following her humble beginnings on the basketball court, Copeland took the stage years later as the first-ever African American female principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. Copeland has since spent years dancing en pointe (on the tips of the toes) and inspiring women and men around the world, performing everywhere from Prince’s purple piano to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. 

USA TODAY caught up with the ballerina, author, and spokesmodel to talk about everything from finding ballet as a young child and dancing for 12 hours a day to diversifying the field of ballet and realizing that everyone is just human.

Question: How did you get your start with dance?

Misty Copeland: I was one of six children, so we didn’t have a ton of opportunity to really have any kind of individual chance to go play a sport or go take a dance class. We didn’t have the means at all to that – we were constantly moving from city to city and not always having a home. When I discovered who Mariah Carey was, I had this innate, visceral response and she became this kind of protection for me. Whenever there was chaos or whatever was going on in my life, she was this escape. That turned into movement being an escape. I ended up auditioning for the dance team at my middle school, and they made me captain even though I literally had no dance experience. I was 13 at that time, and that’s when I was discovered by a teacher that saw a lot of potential in me and told me to take ballet class. (There was a) free class at the Boys & Girls Club, so I took my first ballet class on the basketball court. 

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