NEW YORK (AP) — Misty Copeland has her hands (and feet!) in many different projects simultaneously, but all are motivated by her passion to use her platform to promote diversity in all the spaces she inhabits.
The first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in 2015, Copeland says she never takes that opportunity for granted. Beyond performing, she says she feels a responsibility to show the importance of representation, and work on projects that are an extension of who she is as a dancer.
Her influence has transcended the stage to author, head of her own production company and charitable foundation, and now co-founder and designer of a new athletic wear brand, Greatness Wins, that focuses on clothing for women of all ages and body types.
Copeland also likes to try new things that scare her so she’s taken on the role of interviewer on a new show called “PBS Arts Talk,” where she recently interviewed painter Nathaniel Mary Quinn and dancer and choreographer Twlya Tharp.
Copeland spoke with The Associated Press about her new focus, fighting for more inclusive emojis, and staying in shape.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
COPELAND: Twyla it ended up being more nerve wracking once I got into it with her because — I mean, I should have known — I’ve been working with her since I was 6 years old. I’m 41 now— she’s a ball buster. She wants to push the boundaries and it didn’t matter what question I asked her, she was going to push me (laughs) in every way.
But also, we’ve had an amazing relationship and she’s been a mentor to me my whole career. I was nervous being on this side of things. And, you know, whenever we would cut, she would just say, “Misty, just be you. You’ve done so much, there’s nothing you have to prove. Let’s just talk.”
COPELAND: It was so emotional just hearing his story and the way that he tells it. And to see it so vividly reflected in his work is inspiring as an artist. I asked him about what it was to be a Black artist and has it been a struggle and he just looks at things in a very different lens, at least from what my experience has been as a Black artist. And I think those two different stories are so important to tell. He kind of uses these things that he’s gone through as a launching pad. And he’s like “I’m an artist. I make work that I hope will speak to all people. Of course I’m thinking about my community, but it’s for everyone.”
COPELAND: It follows a handful of young people and really watching how LIFT has provided tools to be better human beings to evolve and to kind of make choices in a positive way. But it’s just showing the power of the arts. That to me is like the grand scheme theme is that art saves lives, and dance and ballet can be inclusive. It’s about who’s teaching it. It’s about getting rid of all of the trauma and things you’ve dealt with and coming into the room and bringing ballet at its core to these young people. It’s just a beautiful documentary.
COPELAND: I’ve always felt so privileged to be in the position that I’m in. I’ve watched generations and generations and I have relationships with a lot of these dancers, Black and brown, who weren’t given an opportunity like I have. So I feel a responsibility being in this position that it’s not just about going on stage and performing, though that’s extremely important to have representation in that space. But for me to do everything I can to show what I’ve gained by being a part of this art form and the importance of diversity, the importance of having representation.
It’s amazing to have these things that are an extension of who I am as a ballerina.
COPELAND: Dance should be inclusive, it should be uniting. It’s a universal language. It should be for everyone. These may seem like small, insignificant things to a lot of people, but there’s a much bigger meaning and deeper meaning behind it. You know, going back to the history of the pink tight and the pink ballet slipper — yes, there were white European people doing it in that time, so they made these things to reflect them in their skin color. But now that’s not all who’s dancing and who’s being exposed to it. So we should see that representation through and through.
I look at these young people who are influenced by these things like emojis. They’re on Tik Tok, they’re texting, they’re on Twitter and Instagram. It may seem like an insignificant thing to maybe someone my age, but these young people want to see themselves represented and reflected in these spaces.
COPELAND: I was up at 5 a.m. this morning on the treadmill (laughs.) I’m not actively on stage right now because I really felt like it’s kind of now or never. I’ve had an incredible career so far with ABT, and I’ve done everything and more than I imagined.
I’m now in a position where I’ve founded this athletic wear line with Derek Jeter and Wayne Gretzky, Greatness Wins. I’m the president and founder of the Misty Copeland Foundation. I sit on the board of Lincoln Center and The Shed. All of these things that I think are such an incredible evolution of where I’ve come from as an artist and as a Black artist. And I now am in these spaces where I can have impact and I have a voice and I have power and I want to take advantage of this time.
But yes, I still have to take care of myself. I have to put myself first and make sure I’m healthy so that I can take care of my 18-month-old and do all these other things.
COPELAND: 100%! He came out of the womb with quads and calves and he’s like this little muscle man. And he’s obsessed with ballet, which I did not try and do! He didn’t see ballet until about a month ago, just on the screen. And he dances. It’s unbelievable. I can’t wait to actually get him in a formal dance class.