For a woman who has danced seductively around Prince, Misty Copeland is surprisingly down to earth. The internationally renowned star of the American Ballet Theatre delivered the keynote speech during the Gye Nyame Empowerment Project’s sixth annual Sista-2-Sista Youth Summit. Just before encouraging nearly 125 girls with her story of climbing dance’s ladder of discipline, Parlour caught up with the California-born, New York-based beauty on giving back and realizing the simple power of her presence.
Parlour: How did you get involved in the Gye Nyame Empowerment Project?
Misty Copeland: When I heard about GNEP, it was this crazy thing where I felt like I fit in perfectly with everything they stood for, empowerment and sisterhood. It was natural and it’s exciting to be here, surrounded by people who look like me. This is not part of my everyday life and world as a classical ballet dancer, I’m always the only one. It’s powerful to be surrounded by brown women.
As the keynote speaker for the Sista-2-Sista Summit, what’s your message?
I want to touch on a little bit of everything that these girls are experiencing as part of the Summit. I’ll give them a little bit of my story and show them that they can relate to me and see themselves in me just as I see myself in them. I just want to empower them to use each other as resources, as power and as mentors.
If I was a teenager, I’d probably assume that you were out of my league, how do you feel these girls can see themselves in you?
Seeing yourself in others is such a powerful thing, and I don’t think I was truly aware of it growing up even though I did have support and mentorship. When I meet little girls now, they look at me in awe because they’re not used to seeing a brown ballerina — that’s what I mean by these girls being able to see themselves in me. It’s so simple that a lot of them might not even be consciously aware that just seeing someone of the same color skin dancing on a stage is powerful.
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career in dance, and perhaps has a family that says, ‘How will you support yourself with that?’
You don’t have to come from the ballet world and culture to be accepted and get the training. You don’t have to have money. It took extreme hard work and determination, but I came from extremely humble beginnings with no one around me who knew anything about dance. I’m from San Pedro, California. It’s important for us to use each other and support one another. We shouldn’t think of each other as threats.
With all of your achievements, you’ve become one of our most celebrated black role models. Is it weird to accept this moment?
Because it happened so organically, it doesn’t feel weird. I never planned on being someone. I used to hate to speak, I was really shy and through dance, I overcame my insecurities. When I was on stage, I was more alive than I was when I wasn’t. I never thought I would have such a voice being a dancer but I know how important it is, and the effect it has on younger girls and boys. It’s awesome and an honor to be in this position. I don’t feel pressured, I feel like this is what I’m meant to do.
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