“She was a painfully shy girl who grew up in a single-parent home filled with six children and raised by a mother who often worked multiple jobs.” That’s how Misty Copeland described herself to guests at Washington D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre on Wednesday night. The principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre was in the nation’s capital to accept an achievement award from Congressional Black Caucus members and CBC Spouses. The Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts ceremony honored her for being a performance trailblazer.

During her acceptance speech, Copeland, who was raised in San Pedro, California, said that she was placed in the public school system “expected to survive by chance or luck or some combo of the two.” She also disclosed that she rarely spoke, leading the people around her to believe that she was possibly developmentally challenged. 

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“Why is she so withdrawn?” Copeland said people would ask. “She just wanted to disappear to not be seen or heard. To be invisible. She didn’t want people to know anything at all about her. No questions, no whispers.” 

Copeland confessed that all of that changed the day she discovered dance. Love for the art form is what she credits as the thing that “literally brought her to life.” Saying, “She no longer wanted to disappear. She wanted to dance. She wanted to be a ballerina. She wanted to succeed.”

The now-revered ballerina stands as an exceptional model of how children’s lives can be transformed by the arts. “That’s what the performing arts and ballet did for me,” Copeland affirmed. “And it does the same for countless children across this country when they have access to it.”


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