As five-time Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci writes of Copeland: “Misty proves that success is not about how you grow up or the color of your skin."

By Rozalynn S. Frazier
April 16, 2015

Our girl crush, ballerina Misty Copeland, was just named one of the “100 Most Influential People” by Time magazine (our sister pub) and we couldn’t be happier for her.

Lauded under the “Pioneers” category, Copeland is recognized as ballet’s breakout star, and her profile was written by a woman she looked up to as a child: five-time Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. As Comaneci writes: “Misty proves that success is not about how you grow up or the color of your skin. Her story—of overcoming personal and physical challenges to become a soloist at the American Ballet Theater—is the story of someone who followed her dreams and refused to give up.”

We had the pleasure of speaking with the San Pedro, California, native at the launch of Under Armour’s incredibly inspiring “I Will What I Want” campaign in August. The graceful and gorgeous Copeland, 32, spoke about how thrilled she was that the athletic brand, for which she's an ambassador, was bringing ballet to the forefront.

“This campaign had so much deep meaning and connection for me. For black women in the classical ballet world, and in ballet in the broader world, to be given the same respect that we are just as athletic as any athlete that is kind of given that platform. And I think it's about time that ballet is recognized within the world. It is not just a niche art form. It is athletic, it is an art and we are athletes and actors; we are all of these things,” she said.

Copeland went on to explain why she never gave up her dream despite being criticized for starting ballet at the “late” age of 13 and not having the typical ballerina’s body.

“I willed myself here [by] focusing on [my]self and not the noise from outside and the opinions of other people, which is so hard, especially when you are in an art form and you are criticized; you are putting it out there for people to give their opinions," she said. "I just focused on what I wanted and that was, for me, coming from a single person home and being one of six kids living in a hotel room, that dancing gave me a voice and a better life and a path, and I knew I was happiest when that was what I was doing. So why should I let these people with negative opinions put that on me?”

But her place on stage does more than just shine a light on ballet: it highlights the tenacity of women in general, and that fact is not lost on Copeland.

“[This] is about the will to make it as women as far as we have in careers that are predominately taken over by men. And I feel like this campaign really just speaks to how incredibly strong women are. We can have babies; we can do anything. And we deserve the acknowledgement and respect that we can be athletes, that we can be feminists, that we can be mothers, that we can be all of these things,” said Copeland, who is currently guest-starring in The Washington Ballet company’s production of Swan Lake in the roles of Odette/Odile.

All we can say is kudos to you Copeland, and congratulations on an amazing, and absolutely well-deserved honor.