American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland made history when she was named the company’s first black female principal dancer, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the accomplishments of the leading lady and best-selling author, who first stepped into a ballet studio at age 13. Copeland drops by the JFK Presidential Library and Museum for a chat with WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti on Aug. 28, and we got an early word.
In your most recent book, Ballerina Body, you talk about the importance of finding mentors. What’s one piece of advice from one of your mentors that’s been top of mind for you lately? What has been top of mind for me is, try to enjoy the journey. As ballet dancers, we work so hard to get the opportunity to perform lead roles in the classical ballet repertoire, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to perform several of my dream roles, such as Kitri in Don Quixote, Giselle, Odile/Odette in Swan Lake and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. As much as I want to always do my very best on the stage, I’m learning to appreciate the good and the not-so-good moments. There is no such thing as perfection, but as artists, we strive for it. I now know that every day is a new opportunity to do better, to be better. So yes, I’m enjoying this journey.
You also touch on journal entries from when you were first promoted to principal dancer. While plenty of people were celebrating you, others expressed doubt, and you note that this made you question whether you deserved it. Any tips for when those feelings of self-doubt creep in? My motto has become to not allow other people’s words to define you. It’s hard in this age of social media to block out the negativity, but it’s so important. When you take on other people’s negative perceptions of you, it weighs you down. And when that happens, it’s not possible to give your all or best. Surround yourself with people who support you and truly want the best for you.
Is there one role you haven’t yet performed yet that you’re itching to? Most recently, I got to perform Princess Praline for Alexei Ratmansky’s Whipped Cream, which was so much fun. I’m looking forward to guesting with the Australian Ballet in November to perform as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty for the first time. I’m really living my dream.
If you had to pursue any other career — even if you didn’t think you’d be incredibly successful — what would it be? I think I would always be doing something in the arts or in a creative field. It’s in my blood. I also really love to cook, so most likely a chef.
What’s the secret to a top-notch ballerina bun? Slick your hair straight back at the nape of your neck and put your hair in a band. Twist your hair, wrap your hair around the band really tight, then place another band around the bun; layer on top of the bun to secure it. This allows you to take it down quickly without the fuss of pins.
Check out a webcast of the conversation with Copeland at jfklibrary.org.