Misty Copeland Kicks Off Black History Month at Manhattan College

by, Jilleen Barrett, A&E Editor

Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer in the history of the American Ballet Theatre, spoke to students as the first speaker in the Student Engagement online lecture series for the spring semester. The event was held on the first day of Black History Month and according to the @mcstudentengage on Instagram, it was co-hosted by the Jasper Dancers as well as the Black Student Union.

Copeland spoke about her personal history with dance having not started her training until she was a teenager, although most professional dancers begin their career at a young age. Her first taste of dance was through her school, where she auditioned to be captain of the dance team with no prior experience.

“I felt in control and I felt like a leader for the first time in my life,” Copeland said about her initial reaction to dance. “…I made captain and I think everyone was stunned by that and within six months the drill team teacher was like, ‘Wow, you have a lot of potential’.”

Copeland was introduced to a ballet teacher who was seeking more diversity in her studio and offered free lessons to children through the Boys & Girls Club. The teacher realized Copeland was a prodigy and by her late teens, she was dancing with the American Ballet Theatre.

Once she was in New York City, Copeland realized the challenges of being the only Black dancer in a professional setting and she spoke to the viewers that night about what her teenage perspective was when she initially arrived.

“It’s a lot… you’re coming into your own and you’re trying to figure out who you are and it’s a really strange feeling when you spend, you know, eight hours a day with people who don’t look like you,” she said.

Misty Copeland was the first speaker in the Student Engagement online lecture
series for the Spring semester. @MCSTUDENTENGAGE / COURTESY

Copeland’s lecture was well received, particularly by Student Engagement employee Shannon Jiminez-Ortega and her 15-year-old daughter, Angie. Jiminez-Ortega explained that her daughter, also a person of color, loves to dance and was “glued to the laptop” as Copeland spoke.

“Misty shared (and I’m paraphrasing) how there were times when she felt like she didn’t belong in the world around her, as it relates to her professional career in ballet,” Jiminez-Ortega said. “I think we all experience that in some form or another, throughout our lives. Hers was a story of overcoming and persevering through those challenges and I really admire and respect that.”

Rachel Criss, a sophomore and a member of the Jasper Dancers dance team, was also excited to see Copeland speak. She referenced Copeland’s Under Armour campaign when describing how she felt the lecture went.

“I’ve read Misty’s memoir and am a big fan, so a lot of the things she said in the lecture I have heard before,” she said. “However, it was still great to hear it from her live! My main takeaway from Misty Copeland’s lecture can be summed up by her campaign slogan with Under Armour: ‘I will what I want.’ If you want something, you will accomplish it.”

Copeland mentioned some of her ad campaigns during the lecture, saying that although she feels it is necessary to use her voice to educate the people viewing the advertisements she is in, she thinks more dancers should be recognized for their talent and hard work.

“I shouldn’t be the only dancer that’s getting endorsement deals and that you know is put next to athletes, I feel like every dancer should have this opportunity,” she said.

Copeland ended her lecture by saying that ballet gave her the opportunity to be stronger, in the way of being a better dancer and person.

“It’s definitely shown me perseverance and patience and strength from every way you can imagine that word,” she said. “… It’s physical strength on another level but then this insane inner strength where you have to make all the hard technical feats look like nothing.”

The next lecture hosted by Student Engagement will be with Aly Raisman on March 25.