Misty Copeland: Bringing Ballet Back to the Limelight

From the ballet Coppelia

Photo By Gilda N. Squire (Gildasquire) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As I pedaled through my workout on the bike at the gym, the television caught my eye when I glimpsed a tutu and pointe shoes on the nightly news. Ballet’s presence in pop culture’s spotlight is rare and fleeting. However, occasionally, the ballet world sneaks into the day’s top headlines. I was thrilled to see Misty Copeland’s smiling face lighting up the screen, and the news banner announced her most recent triumph. On June 30, shining star Misty Copeland continued her rise to mainstream fame with the announcement of her promotion to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Not only is she now ranked as a leading performer, Copeland is the company’s first black female dancer to achieve this commendable status.

At age thirteen, Copeland began her training at San Pedro City Ballet and continued to Lauridsen Ballet Center and Francisco Ballet School. She found her home with American Ballet Theatre after attending their summer intensive and joining the junior company in 2000. The following year, she joined the professional company as a corps de ballet member. Six years later, Copeland became a soloist. After her most recent promotion last Wednesday, Copeland is now one of the leading stars of the company.

I hope to see Copeland perform live someday, but until then, I’m amazed as I watch her online videos. Her technique, enhanced by her stunning facility and musicality, is remarkably stunning. Her athletic musculature adds an unstoppable power to her grace, making her a surreal yet dynamic ballerina. Most compelling is her expressive face, which draws the audience in with undeniably pure joy.

As her stunning dancing propelled her higher through the company ranks, it also attracted the attention of those outside of the ballet world. Her television and magazine appearances have nearly made her a household name, a rarity for professional ballet dancers. Most recently, she graced the cover of Time Magazine and was featured as one the publication’s “100 most influential people.”

Her genuine, down-to-earth personality attracts a dedicated fan base, and she serves as a role model for countless young women, whether dancers or not. As she continues to grace the stages of the Met, surely her popularity will continue to soar, and her dancing will continue to make history for years to come.

Beginner Ballerina Profile: Aerialist Sarah Jean Kaye

This week’s profile (well, technically last week’s) is Sarah Jean Kaye, who began taken ballet again after a long break to help her improve for aerials.

20121002-DSC_1246-Edit-2Adult Ballerina Project: When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

Sarah Jean Kaye: I recently started taking class again after a long break of five years off from the ballet barre to improve my line and hip flexors for aerials.

ABP: Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

SJK: I took ballet growing up 2x a week for a few years but by no means was a ballerina. I took jazz and acro at a dance studio that only used ballet as a supplemental training, where is should have been the main focus! I took ballet to help stretch me out but sadly with years of contortion style acrobatics training, I stayed short forever at 5’3.

ABP: Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

SJK: I missed the regimen oddly enough. I think because I always idolized ballerinas but knew I never would be one with 90 degree turnout that I wanted the challenge of going back into the classroom. When I was a child training to be a performer, ballet made me always feel negative about myself because I was short legged with a very athletic build, no turnout, and extensions only to 90 degrees. Even though I had a very bendy back, my legs and hips just never went anywhere. It was very disheartening and frustrating. Now as an adult, I am over the fact that I was never going to be a ballerina. Now I realize it makes me a better person for going after the challenge. And it finally makes me feel beautiful when doing it. As a adult ballerina, you are not competing to perform against classmates but all reveling in how it makes you feel.

ABP: Where do you take classes?

SJK: When close to home in Central Jersey I love to take at Princeton Dance & Theater, a studio opened by ABT principal Susan Jaffe & principal ballerina Risa Kaplowitz. They have a studio focused in premiere dancing and follow the American Ballet Theatre’s education and curriculum plan, yet it is so warm and nurturing there. I particularly like to go to the Ailey Extension in NYC and take from Kat Wildish or Finis Jhung. Each absolute masters at their trade, they have perfected the art of teaching adult ballet.

ABP: What is your favorite part about ballet?

SJK: Grand allegro. I am a fabulous leaper!

ABP :What is your least favorite part?

SJK: Probably a combination of left turns and my lack there of turnout. Both are my ballet arch-nemesis!

ABP: Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

SJK: : Marcelo Gomes & Sascha Radetsky have kept me coming back time and time again to see the ballet in NYC. I love the primas but there is something about male dancers that is just captivating, probably because I was such an athletic mover I actually relate more to their movement. But I do always aspire to look like the ladies on pointe! I would love to take pointe!

ABP: What motivates you to keep dancing?

SJK: The challenge to make myself better and be able to say that I didn’t let this conquer me.

ABP: Do you take any other dance classes?

SJK: I like to take a jazz or musical theater class when I can but most of my free class time now goes to aerial classes!

ABP: What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

SJK: Reading, any ridiculous adventure challenge like trampolining, flying trapeze, pole dancing, or indoor rock climbing (I like to say I tried anything once), watching modern family, traveling, seeing broadway shows, makeup, and occasional cap naps.

ABP: What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

SJK: JUST DO IT! Get over the hump, swallow your pride, allow those days when you are awful, celebrate the days you were amazing, and now there is always someone better and worse the same class as you!

ABP: Anything else you’d like to add?


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