Why Misty Copeland dancing in ‘Swan Lake’ is kind of a big deal

Last week, the Washington Ballet announced that badass ballerina Misty Copeland will make her American debut in Swan Lake with the company in April.

Misty Copeland is everywhere lately. She’s onstage with the American Ballet Theatre as only the third black soloist — and the first in two decades — in the company’s 75-year history. She’s on our television screens, as a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance, and showing us that ballet is indeed a sport in her breathtaking Under Amour commercial. She’s on bookstore shelves with both her inspiring memoir, Life in Motion, and her children’s book, Firebird, which tells the story of a young African-American girl who follows her dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. She’s even on public transportation . . .

But the news that Misty will be dancing the iconic dual lead roles of Odette and Odile, the White Swan and Black Swan, in our nation’s capitol is especially meaningful. Why?

Her performance will shatter racial stereotypes

Misty had this to say on the Today Show about why she wanted to perform the lead in Swan Lake last year when she first danced the role of Odette/Odile in Australia:

“There’s just something about that ballet that people just — you envision this very pale Russian extremely tall woman as the swan. And typically people don’t see African-American women as ballerinas because they don’t think that we’re soft and feminine and sylph-like. They see us as very powerful and aggressive. And so I want to have the opportunity to prove them wrong.”

The role of Prince Siegfried, Misty’s partner in Swan Lake, will be danced by the Washington Ballet’s Brooklyn Mack. Mack is also African-American. Together, they will forever change the way this most traditional of ballets is remembered.

She will change the way people think about ‘ballet bodies’

This historic performance will cement Misty’s presence as both the face and body of contemporary American ballet. And this is such good news. She is an outspoken advocate for diversity in the shape and size of dancers’ bodies.

As she told Teen Vogue, “. . . my curves are part of who I am as a dancer, not something I need to lose in order to become one.”

It could pave the way for her to make history . . . again

Misty has been outspoken about her desire to become American Ballet Theatre’s first black principal dancer. Her groundbreaking role in Swan Lake will bring her one step closer to making this dream a reality. Three principal dancers at the company — Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent, and Xiomara Reyes — are scheduled to retire at the end of the 2015 season. The timing will be perfect for Misty to dance into place as a principal, which is the highest attainable rank within a ballet company.

She will motivate a new generation of American dancers

Misty’s star power is guaranteed to attract a wide, diverse audience. There will no doubt be people sitting in that theater who have never seen a live ballet performance before. And among them will be countless little girls who dream of a future in dance. Little girls who look and feel different than the other dancers in their ballet classes. Little girls who would otherwise have never believed that such dreams can someday come true. That is, until they saw Misty.

And these girls are the biggest reason of all why this news is a very big deal, indeed.

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