Ballet News Reviews | Life in Motion : An Unlikely Ballerina

February 27, 2014


Ballet News Reviews | Life in Motion : An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

As Firebird, with Herman Cornejo Photo Credit Gene Schiavone

As Firebird, with Herman Cornejo Photo Credit Gene Schiavone

Unlike many books of the genre, which are akin to digesting dust, Misty Copeland’s story, written with Charisse Jones, is an engaging read. Lightly written, with dark corners that punctuate her life, she tells it like it is, in a balanced view and from her perspective.

Copeland is the first African-American soloist in the last two decades at American Ballet Theatre. She may have started ballet very late, but from almost the beginning she was labelled a prodigy. An itinerant childhood, which was at times happy but often left her wondering whether there would be food to eat and where she would sleep, meant that ballet was her escape; a chance to leave the anxiety she felt about almost every other aspect of her life behind, and the ballet studio was a place where she could concentrate on being as good as she could be.

A people-pleaser by nature, Copeland was the good student who was never late for class; indeed so worried was she about being late, or singled out for attention, that she would arrive hours earlier than necessary and sit in an empty corridor waiting for lessons to start. Her mother had a succession of husbands, which embarrassed Copeland and left both her & her siblings to look after each other for much of the time, as they sped from house to house in her mother’s attempt to escape a failing relationship. Despite this, Copeland’s complicated relationship with her mother improved much later as she made her mark in the ballet world, and her mother and siblings have always been her most vociferous supporters.

Throughout most of this time, Copeland was insulated from racism, though one of her mother’s husbands was violent and racist towards them, and later in ballet she encountered further discrimination. Indeed, Copeland wants to make it clear that in 2014 it is still a problem. When she later auditioned for summer schools with five of the major ballet companies in the US, only one refused her, and the reason behind that decision was a defining one. And she still has the letter.

Dancing with Prince Photo credit Getty Images

Dancing with Prince Photo credit Getty Images

Copeland’s earliest ballet dream was to dance for American Ballet Theatre. For her, it is the pre-eminent ballet company in the US and the one where her talents would best be recognised. All the work she put into her training was focused on this one goal. And becoming a principal dancer.

Onstage as an odalisque in Le Corsaire Photo Credit Rosalie O’Connor

Onstage as an odalisque in Le Corsaire Photo Credit Rosalie O’Connor

Many dispiriting rehearsals, competition from colleagues, injury and a court case revolving around Copeland’s wish, at that time, to be declared an emancipated minor, later, and Copeland is in reflective mood. She has danced with Prince and she has danced principal roles. Her story is not yet over; she has not yet accomplished her dream of becoming a principal dancer and worries that people will consider her to have failed if she does not. The decision is not within her control, but she continues to work towards this goal. She has been hurt by criticism about her work, her drive for self-publicity, but is sanguine about the fact that for a girl who never wanted to draw attention to herself, choosing a career on the stage put her on a collision course with the very attention she resists.

Having accomplished so much already, Copeland would like her story to encourage and inspire others. If you’re looking for insights into the working of a professional ballet company, you won’t find them here, but you will find a hard-working, balanced and focused ballet dancer who has proved that you can start ballet late and still succeed. Copeland is clear : she does worry about what people think of her but she will continue to strive to achieve her goals no matter what is thrown in her way. Watch this space.

Copeland talks about one of her projects in the book. Watch this video for more.

You can order Life in Motion : An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland here :

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Hardcover)

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