Monday, September 23, 2013

New Project Aims to Diversify Ballet: An Exclusive Interview with Misty Copeland

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Project Plié launches in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Misty Copeland has overcome many obstacles to become the third African American soloist and the first in two decades for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), recognized as one of the greatest dance companies in the world.  However, Copeland’s story is rare.  The scarcity of black ballerinas in ballet companies has been a topic of op-eds, articles and discussions in recent years. In March, Copeland along with Virginia Johnson, artistic director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, participated on the panel “Black Swans: Black Women in Classical Ballet,” that discussed the lack of black dancers in the classical ballet world.  The barriers range from economic to cultural, but a new initiative aims to change this.  ABT has recently announced the launch of Project Plié, an initiative to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet and diversify America’s ballet companies. According to ABT’s website, the project seeks to“combine training and support of ballet students from communities previously underrepresented in American ballet companies with the creation of a nationwide network of partner professional ballet companies who are committed to diversity.”

BlackGivesBack recently caught up with Misty, the project’s ambassador while visiting Washington, DC with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, a partner organization with Project Plié to learn more about the initiative.

This is an exciting initiative. Please share more about Project Plié and its partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

The Boys & Girls Clubs – where I found ballet and ballet found me – and the American Ballet Theater are the two dearest things to my heart.  By bringing them together, it’s something that classical ballet has always needed.  It’s a way to get top notch training to inner cities.  There are Boys & Girls Clubs all over the country and to bring classical ballet to all of them is exactly what is needed to diversify the field. We have to start from the ground up – providing training to young kids to give them all equal opportunity to then audition with ballet companies. To see my brown face on the stage is not enough, we have to start from the bottom.

What obstacles have contributed to this disparity?

Ballet has always been something that’s for an elite class, and you have to have a lot of money to get the proper training, to then make it to the level to even be thought of getting into a company as elite as the American Ballet Theater.  So there’s many odds working against someone who comes from an under privileged community and who is minority.  I’m here to serve as an example to show that I can conquer these obstacles to make it to a top ballet company - a black woman from the Boys & Girls Clubs from a single parent home.  It will take years that I may not see in my lifetime that I see a change.


Misty Copeland performs during Prince's "Welcome 2 America" tour at Madison Square Garden in 2011. The musician donated $250,000 to ABT to increase scholarships for children of color, a donation made possible in part by Copeland. (Photo: Getty Images)

What’s next for you?

On March 4, 2014, Simon & Shuster Touchstone will release my memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina that will share my story starting out at age 13 to last season when I premiered the part of “The Firebird” at the Metropolitan Opera House which was a huge accomplishment for me as an individual and for African American female dancers.  Hopefully this book will push other youngsters to follow in my footsteps.  It’s very exciting; I never thought this was in my future.

Learn more about Project Plié at abt.org/education/projectplie/ and visit Misty’s website at mistycopeland.com.


Photo credit: Buzzology


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