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Misty Copeland Interview on Body Image and Racism in Ballet

Misty Copeland Says Coded Language Is Used to Keep Black and Brown Dancers Out of Ballet

Misty Copeland has said that she considers speaking about racism and racial inequality in the ballet industry to be her life's work as a dancer. Now, in an interview with SiriusXM Urban View host Karen Hunter, Copeland, the first Black principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre, is opening up even more about this topic and how body type and body image comes into play here.

The language that's used with Black and brown dancers, Copeland described, is coded. She was called a prodigy at age 13 when she first stepped into the world of ballet and was told she had exactly the right body type and proportions. But when she joined American Ballet Theatre four years later, she was told the opposite, that she didn't have the body for ballet. "That's language that's used that the ballet world can get away with because you're in a visual art form, it's about your aesthetic, and it's subjective. So that's what they say to Black and brown dancers to disguise saying, 'You don't have the right skin colour for ballet,'" she said.

Copeland continued on to talk about the negative relationship she had with food — overeating, specifically, and not taking care of her body — but that through those difficult times in her ballet career she persevered, thanks to the strong Black men and women in her life who assured her that it's OK to be the one paving the way for other Black and brown people in ballet.

Ballet, Copeland said, is a part of so many different cultures, "so to exclude certain communities and certain cultures from ballet because they say we're not capable makes no sense to me." Hunter pointed to a video of an 11-year-old dancer from Nigeria, Anthony Mmesoma Madu, that garnered worldwide attention this year. He's performing pirouettes and leaping barefoot, to which Copeland said he is proof that "it doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter where you're dancing." It knocks down, she noted, stereotypes "about Black people not being able to do ballet."

For the rest of the interview, Copeland spoke about her latest endeavours — like a history book of sorts for Black ballerinas — and you can watch it in full above.

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