Misty Copeland is first black principal dancer at American Ballet Theater

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Misty Copeland

NEW YORK, NY- American dancer Misty Copeland, a cultural phenomenon outside the dance world, has been promoted to the highest rank of the American Ballet Theatre, becoming the first African-American female principal dancer in the company’s 75-year history.

The American Ballet Theatre announced the news Tuesday in a slew of promotions at one of the country’s top ballet companies. Stella Abrera also was promoted to the rank of principal dancer.

Copeland joined the American Ballet Theatre in April 2001 and was appointed a soloist in August 2007. Since then, she has been outspoken about her desire to become the first black woman to be named a principal dancer at the company.

“My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company,” she wrote in her memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” published in 2014. “That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.”

Her career has been a series of landmarks that have drawn attention outside the rarefied world of ballet. As the New York Times noted Tuesday, whenever Copeland danced leading roles with the company, “her performances became events, drawing large, diverse, enthusiastic crowds to cheer her on.”

After she became the first African-American dancer to star in American Ballet Theatre’s production of the classic “Swan Lake,” crowds of young autograph-seekers swarmed the stage door in a time when ballet companies across the country are struggling to draw audiences.

Copeland was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015 and was featured on one of five covers for the issue. Olympic gold medal gymnast Nadia Comaneci wrote in Time that Copeland’s story was one “of someone who followed her dreams and refused to give up.”

“In that way, she is a model for all young girls,” Comaneci wrote. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you have the passion like Misty, you can be the best at what you do.”

Copeland has been the subject of numerous magazine profiles, the forthcoming documentary “A Ballerina’s Tale” and a “60 Minutes” episode.

In addition to her memoir, she has written a children’s book and has more than 500,000 followers on Instagram. She made a splash outside the ballet world with an Under Armour ad that has been viewed more than 8 million times.

The apparel company was one of many to congratulate Copeland on the news.

By Emanuella Grinberg

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