Misty Copeland On Building Resilience, Her Gym Pet Peeve, And The One Move She Swears By
Mat Hayward

This article originally appeared on Health.  

Some may have thought Misty Copeland was a flash in the pan, but the American Ballet Theater principal dancer is proving her staying power. In addition to performing—she makes her debut as Kitri in Don Quixote at the Metropolitan Opera House this week—Copeland is a brand ambassador for Under Armour, with her own clothing collaboration. And this spring she published a wellness book titled Ballerina Body.

“So much a part of my success is all of the things that are in the book,” says Copeland, 34. “It is allowing women to kind of explore themselves and love themselves now, and be in the present, and enjoy the journey to becoming your best self.” (Ballerina Body includes some of the dancer’s killer moves, too.)

We recently caught up with Copeland and chatted about body image, the one exercise she always makes time for, and the value of living in the moment.

From an early age, you experienced criticism about your body. What advice do you have for anyone who is unsure about her body or doesn’t feel confident in her skin.

I feel like women today, with the social media being so relevant in our lives and in pop culture, it is important not to get caught up in this image that is not real. It is so beautiful to be an individual and to love yourself, and be who you are. There is no need to transform through plastic surgery or all those crazy filters and look like someone else. Why would you want to do that? I think it is so amazing to be unique. It can be a very hard process, and I went through it, being told that I wasn’t right— I am still told to this day by some people that black dancers shouldn’t exist in the ballet world—and being told to lose weight at a young age. I think it is important to love yourself now and surround yourself with people who are going to remind you to love yourself.

What do you love most about your body?

I love my strength that my body has held since I was a child, even before dance. Not just my big calves that I had when I was a little peanut that looked ridiculous on my body, but the inner strength that I feel like I had because of the atmosphere I grew up in. Growing up in a single parent home and watching my mother raise six children and living in a motel, all of these things I think have given me the strength to be who I am today.

What is one workout move that you swear by?

Something as simple as doing a plank strengthens your mind over matter by having to hold yourself in a position for a long period of time, and you are not being active. You’re activating so many muscle groups by simply holding yourself in on place, and you don’t need any apparatus to do it so you can do it anywhere. I hold it for a minute at a time, which is normal. I started working with a trainer recently and he will trick me and tell me it has been one minute when it has been two minutes, and I’m like ‘Why are you doing this to me!’

What is your biggest gym pet peeve?

I am not a big makeup girl, and I am kind of like, if I am working out, I’m working out; I am not going to the gym to be pretty. So I think maybe when I see people with their hair down and makeup on and a little bra, I am like ‘Girl, just get sweaty and do what you need to do.’

What is your go-to healthy meal?

For snacks it is definitely nuts; I always have nuts with me. There are so many nuts in my locker, and I throw them into my dance bag and have them throughout the day, because I rarely get a break longer than 5 minutes on the hour for eight-hour days. My go-to dinner would be a broiled salmon or roasted vegetables.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from ballet?

It’s taught me to be patient and to enjoy the things that I learn through this journey of life. Because we spend so much of our time as dancers in the studio training, and it is a very small portion of it that is actually on stage, so I think that it has taught me to enjoy the sweeter things in life, and be patient and not feel like I need to get somewhere fast, and that the rainbow will be there, rather than just enjoying what is happening now and being present.

What makes you feel most beautiful?

I think when I’m in a place where I feel really at peace with myself and who I am and just content in my life. I feel like that’s when I feel the most powerful and in control and beautiful.