Chances are, you’ll recognize the ballet dancer Misty Copeland from her performances with the American Ballet Theatre. Her moves may look graceful and effortless to the audience, but Copeland’s journey to that coveted Lincoln Center stage has been anything but. Now, after nearly three decades in the industry, the dancer epitomizes passion and confidence that can only come from staunch dedication and hard work — so it’s only natural to be curious about the crucial lessons she’s learned to get to this place. And thankfully, she’s an open book ... literally.
It’s worth noting that Copeland’s accomplishments extend well beyond her ballet career. The dancer has now published a total of six books, the latest being The Wind at My Back — a memoir about her relationship with the late Raven Wilkinson, a legendary ballet dancer and Copeland’s mentor. “She showed me that it’s possible to still have such love and appreciation for something, even if it has negative effects on you,” Copeland reflects. “Thinking about her path as a Black woman in America, growing up in the ‘40s and the ‘50s and then her experiencing racism within ballet, it’s incredible that she still had so much love and passion for the art form — and no bitterness towards what her career could have been, or what she experienced within it.”
In addition to her memoir, Copeland also recently launched her own after-school ballet program BE BOLD, which allows kids between the ages of eight and 10 to take dance classes free of charge. (FYI: Copeland started her ballet career on a basketball court at a Boys and Girls Club in San Pedro, California.) And as if all that wasn’t enough, Copeland has a strong presence in the fashion and beauty spaces, too: She regularly partners with fashion and beauty brands like Theory, Breitling, and Estée Lauder on campaigns, educational events, and more.
While Copeland took a break from ballet to welcome her first baby, son Jackson, her dance career is far from over. In fact, she’s determined to make a triumphant return to the ballet stage come 2023. And for now, you can glean from the star’s trusty wellness and self care secrets, revealed to TZR ahead.
You recently launched your own charitable initiative, BE BOLD. What kind of impact would you want it to make now and in the long run?
The goal is to allow this next generation of young Black and brown people from under-resourced, underprivileged communities to feel like they can be a part of the ballet world.
I also want people to understand that ballet can be rigorous and fun, and that it doesn’t have to be that kind of [stereotypical] abusive environment. So in the long run, I want to be able to change the landscape of ballet in a way where more people can see themselves as part of the ballet community. It’s not just about going on to become a professional [dancer]; it’s about gaining the tools to be leaders in your community, too.
You’ve also been vocal about the challenges you faced throughout your career as a ballerina. How did you cope with that stress and pent-up frustration?
Well, when I was younger, I would go out a lot [laughs]. I think what drew me to [going out, and socializing] was the release of hearing music, especially because it was such a big part of my household growing up. It was our way of communicating and having a voice — so for me, [going out and dancing has] always been a way to loosen up and unwind.
Now, let’s talk about your daily routine. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Drink water, wash my face, and then [do] something with my body — gym, ballet class, stretching, something like that.
When you have the chance to treat yourself, what do you do?
A glass of Prosecco, pizza, and a spa.
What are you listening to these days?
The new Jessie Reyez album, [Yessie].
One thing you can’t live without is...
Where are you dreaming of traveling to? Why?
Oh my goodness, where haven’t I been... Maybe go back to somewhere in Italy? I love Italy, and I would love to spend some time on the coast there.
What’s your go-to secret weapon when you want to look and feel good?
Do you have a favorite workout/wellness practice?
Ballet. There’s nothing that can replace it. And while I commend all of the new [ballet-inspired] practices like barre classes and things like that, there’s really no other way to experience and have a ballet body than doing an actual ballet class.
What’s the best piece of relationship advice you’ve ever received?
It’s so generic but it’s so true: communication and being able to step back and see the bigger picture. [You have to] listen and really hear [the other person], and then respond with compassion and love.
What’s a healthy meal you always make/order?
I do a lot of seared salmon on the stovetop with a spinach leaf salad. Something simple like that.
Do you remember your first big splurge? Do you still own it?
Probably a pair of [Christian] Louboutin shoes, which I still own. When I was working with Prince and we were touring a lot, there were a lot of big parties and he would always say, “When you’re with me, you’re not just a ballerina. You’re a rock star — so you need to dress like one.” And so I had these insanely high-heeled booties that were Christian Louboutin, with spikes and all kinds of crazy things on them.
What’s the small stress-saving luxury you swear by at home?
Being still and silent. I think that’s a luxury that people don’t realize is right at that fingertips.
What are you saving up for at the moment?
Probably for a vacation! I have a new baby, so our vacations are very different now [laughs]. We don’t have the insane travels that we once had. I’m sure we’ll get there again, but I’d say I’m saving up for a nice big vacation, which we can maybe take at some point without [my son] Jackson.
One thing you want to go back and tell your younger self?
I would tell myself to be patient, understanding, and forgiving, and to know that the circumstances that you are brought up in don’t define you and that you can be anything you want to be.