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Black History Month: Misty Copeland

Last summer, African American ballet dancer Misty Copeland starred in an Under Armour commercial that stunned the athletic clothing industry. In the ad, Copeland performs ballet while a narrator reads a letter of rejection from a dance company. The ad was seen as a symbol of empowerment for women and minorities.

As part of its Masters of Dance Series, the Lewis Center for the Arts has worked together with Princeton University Ballet, as well as the Center for African American Studies, to host a conversation with Misty Copeland, a renowned ballet dancer, on Feb. 16. As one of a small number of African-American dancers in American Ballet Theatre history, Copeland's arrival on campus during Black History Month is an appropriate one.

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A goal of the Center for African American Studies is togive students the chance to explore the artistic contributions of African-descended people around the world, according to a statement from Alison Bland, media specialist for CAAS.

“Being able to hear from a world-class dancer like Misty Copeland is not only a wonderful compliment, but it is also an opportunity for the Princeton community as a whole to think about the important cultural work of African American dancers and choreographers,” the statement said.

Dance lecturer Tina Fehlandt will moderate the conversation. Fehlandt explained that Copeland will be given the chance to discuss some of the issues she mentions in her 2014 memoir "Life in Motion,"such as“the rigors of studying and performing classical ballet, being a person of color in a predominately and historically white art form, dealing with body image issues and eating disorders, recovering from injuries and navigating social media.”

During an interview, Jiae Azad’15 and Marisa Remez’16, co-presidents of the Princeton University Ballet, elaborated on why Misty Copeland was chosen for this event and her connection to Black History Month.

“[Copeland] is definitely known for breaking down a lot of boundaries, given her race and her body type,” Remez said.“Ballet has a tendency of being very white.”

Misty Copeland defies the body type usually associated with the art form. The way Remez explains it, there is this notion that ballerinas have “a relatively unhealthy body shape … very stick thin and a lack of curves.” Misty Copeland does not embody this image, and this, combined with the fact that she is the only African American woman in such a prestigious ballet company, serves as a source of inspiration for many aspiring dancers.

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Fehlandt explained that Copeland has not only overcome hurdles as a professional dancer, but she is also an advocate for American Ballet Theatre’s "Project Plié,"aninitiative with plans to “increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet.”

This goal is a significant one, as the lack of diversity in ballet companies is evident.

"[Copeland] has a very empowering image for women, [for minorities], and for anyone overcoming adversity because she had a very hard life growing up, and she’s overcome a lot of things, and she’s done it in a very elegant and professional way,” Azad said. “She’s not just a ballerina, she’s a role model for a lot of people"

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