‘Black Ballerinas’: Misty Copeland on new book profiling unsung heroines in dance

NEW YORK (PIX11) — After inspiring dancers around the world, Misty Copeland is sharing the stories of the trailblazing ballerinas who’ve inspired her.

Copeland sat down with PIX11 News to discuss her latest book, “Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy.” 

“I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for so many that slowly opened doors,” Copeland said. 

The book profiles 25 unsung heroines in the classical dance world, including one of Copeland’s mentors, Raven Wilkinson. A Harlem native, Wilkinson was the first African American woman to be admitted to a major American ballet company, gracing stages across the country in the 1950s.

“When I first learned of her story, I think it was the first time that there was a shift in how I saw my career and how I saw what was possible,” Copeland recalled.

Writing the book has been a career-long research process for Copeland. “I wanted to write this book to have true documentation, to write our own history books, because so much of our history as Black women, especially in dance, is not documented.”

While the field of professional ballet has traditionally been slow to embrace diversity, Copeland believes change is finally on the horizon. 

“The biggest steps and movement that I’ve seen has been in the past two years, in the pandemic, which has been a really trying time for everyone, but especially in the arts and first stage performers. And then after the murder of George Floyd. This has been the most movement in my 20-year professional career,” she said.

With so many performances cancelled or delayed over the last year, Copeland is also focused on giving back to her fellow dancers.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I started a relief fund called Swans For Relief, where I brought dancers together from all over the globe to raise money, not just for dancers here in America, but for dancers globally, who, you know, had challenging times financially, keeping food on the table.”