Misty Copeland covers the new Self Magazine, and everything about her is to die for. She’s beautiful, her body is crazy, and her attitude is amazing. Copeland is arguably America’s most famous working ballerina, and she appears on Self because she’s playing the lead role in the American Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker this Christmas season. Misty was ABT’s first African-American ballerina to take the lead role of Clara, and she’s happily reprising the role this year. She’s also promoting her new memoir, Ballerina Body (out next year). The whole interview is worth a read, and I found her quotes about being an African-American in that primarily white space to be very, very interesting. Some highlights:

She was a very shy child: “People thought I was mute. That’s been the most shocking thing for my family to see. They’re like, ‘How are you speaking in front of all of those people?’ ” In her memoir, Copeland characterizes her childhood as “packing, scrambling, leaving—often barely surviving.” Her mother had been married four times by the time Misty was in elementary school and often struggled to feed her six children. “With the stress of not always having a stable home, I was a ball of nerves.”

Ballet became her refuge: “It was when everything clicked,” she says of her fateful first class at age 13. “School was hard for me. Finding dance was like finding a way I can learn, visually and in my body.” Recognizing Copeland’s promise, the teacher, Cindy Bradley, invited Copeland to move into her house, near an elite ballet school, to focus on training. “I don’t think I understood the magnitude of what I was committing to,” Copeland says. At 16, when her mother asked her to come home, Copeland requested to be emancipated. A messy public court case ensued, but the young dancer’s commitment to ballet only deepened. “When I was in the studio, it was the one time I had this serene place I could escape to,” she says. “And it still is that to this day.”

Developing curves at 19: “I didn’t go through puberty until I was 19, and I was already a professional. So everyone’s expecting your body, as your instrument, to look a certain way.” Copeland speaks candidly about being asked to drop pounds by ABT (she says they used the word lengthen). Rather than comply, she binged defiantly on Krispy Kreme doughnuts, ordering two dozen at a time. “Being told to lose weight, and being African-American, not having anyone else around who looked like me, caused me so much doubt.”

She finally started moderating her diet to something healthier: “There was such a difference in my energy level,” she says. The changes didn’t cause Copeland to “lengthen,” per se, but they did help her dance so well that ABT stopped asking her to. “You can’t change your body to become something it isn’t. [These days] I eat what I enjoy, just not too much of it.”

Ballerinas are athletes: “I’m not trying to change classical ballet. I love everything about it. But we have to show that we’re athletes. We’re putting in the same amount of work; we have the same muscles.”

Becoming the first black woman to perform the lead in Swan Lake: “I feel like I’m representing not just the little brown girls but all African-American dancers who came before me who were never promoted because of the color of their skin. Seeing someone who looks like you could change your path.”

Her advocacy work to bring ballet to minority kids: “I want to show the ballet world that it’s possible to do these things and not be rail-thin or have pale skin and blonde hair.”

She’s always dancing: “Even on vacation I’m doing ballet class every day. If I can’t find a gym, I’m in my room holding the back of a chair like a barre. I was in Guadeloupe last December, and my poor husband had to drive me 45 minutes every morning to a gym that had a ballet school attached!”

In a recent interview, FKA Twigs detailed all of the ways in which she was discouraged from pursuing a professional career in ballet, and the discouragement absolutely came from a place of racism, because Twigs is half-Jamaican. While I was never in ballet (I did gymnastics for years as a kid), I absolutely believe that Misty was probably discouraged over and over from considering ballet a full-time professional career. I can only imagine the barrage of passive-aggressive (and just plain aggressive) insults lodged at her over the years. And the whole “lengthen” thing… ugh. What a euphemism. No, you don’t need to starve yourself, you just need to “lengthen” her body… so you won’t have any curves.

Via www.celebitchy.com

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