Life and Work
6 Life-Mastering Skills From Prima Ballerina Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland dishes on training, down time and the perils of social media from the launch party of the new Under Armour “Unlike Any” campaign.
Master life like you’re Misty Copeland
At 34, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland has accomplished more than many people dream of in a lifetime.
Arguably the most famous ballerina in the world right now, she started lessons at age 13 — far later than the rest of her peers — and was told that she was too muscular to excel in the art form.
Against the odds, Copeland made history in 2015 when she became the first African American woman to become a principal dancer in the ABT. Throughout her career she has racked up achievement after achievement, including being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, joining then-President Barack Obama’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (together, they took part in a fascinating Time interview) and writing three books. Copeland is a role model for anyone who has been told she isn’t good enough or can’t achieve something because of her gender, race or appearance.
We chatted with Copeland at the launch of the new Under Armour “Unlike Any” campaign in New York City, and she told us all about her work with the brand and the lessons she’s learned as an elite athlete and performer.
Misty Copeland says to be yourself
In the same empowering spirit as her first Under Armour “I Will What I Want” ad, one of the videos in the recently launched “Unlike Any” campaign follows Copeland as she dances outdoors to the words of Saul Williams, a spoken word poet who speaks of the barriers Copeland faced in her climb to the top.
“It’s been a difficult journey for me,” she says. “To this day, people second-guess whether or not I should be in this position. Is it because I’m black that I get the recognition I have? Should I look like and be replicating these ballerinas that have come before me?”
But Copeland chooses to be unlike anyone else and bring her unique look and style to the stage. “The art form can’t move forward if someone’s not creating something new and fresh.”
Misty Copeland says training isn’t pretty… And that’s OK
One of the messages that Copeland hopes to convey through her work with Under Armour is that becoming an elite ballerina isn’t glamorous. It’s a lot of sweat, blood and tears.
“I know that I go onstage and put on a beautiful costume and a face full of makeup, but the process of getting there as a lot of hard work,” she says. “We grunt and put in the hours. It’s not our responsibility to look a certain way in the process of becoming strong, independent and powerful.”
Misty Copeland says don’t believe everything you see on social media
Copeland is active on social media and believes that sharing her videos and images is a great way to reach people who have no interest in ballet (enter Misty!).
But she also has a problem with the lack of positivity on social platforms and the unrealistic expectations that they place on young women to look a certain way or lead a specific life.
“We see this imagery over and over again that’s not real,” she says. “These images aren’t giving the empowerment to be an individual, which is what I stand for.”
And even though she’s prepared to shoulder the burden of criticism about her dancing from people she works with, she tries to avoid reading negative social media comments from strangers.
“I’m surrounded by people who love and care about me, and those people criticizing me online don’t know me,” she says. “I think that’s important for our youth to remember.”
Misty Copeland says whatever you do, do it for love
When Copeland started dancing at age 13, she was told that the only way she’d have any chance of becoming a professional was if she took three classes each day for the next four years. Many would have given up, but the amount of time or work simply wasn’t an issue for Copeland.
“As soon as I started, I fell in love with it,” she says. “The thought of me not having enough time was never a concern or an anxiety. If you have the passion and the love, that’s the most important thing and that’s what’s going to push you forward to the next level.”
Misty Copeland says the early bird gets things done
Everyone has off days, even Misty Copeland. But she finds it easiest to accomplish her to-do list if she starts early.
“I need to get things done as soon as I wake up in the morning,” she says. “It’s my prime time when I’m feeling most rested and powerful. The moment I say ‘I’ll take that ballet class at 4 p.m.,’ it’s not going to happen. For me, it’s get up, get it done and you’ll feel so much better about yourself and can enjoy the rest of your day.”
Misty Copeland says everyone needs to try ballet at least once
Copeland champions ballet for the structure and discipline it provides for young kids, but she also loves it because it’s a fun way to keep healthy and fit without worrying about doing 1,000 crunches or toning your triceps.
“Ballet is the ultimate [workout],” she says. “It’s an entire body experience: Physical, mental and spiritual. And it’s fun, so it’s not like you have to work on your glutes. You’re dancing and moving and automatically working on all of these things.”