Ballerina Misty Copeland is photographed at the National Press Club Building on Sept. 17, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Kris Connor/Getty

Misty Copeland makes history as ABT’s principal dancer

Misty Copeland just became the first African-American woman to serve as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater (ABT).

This historic hire was announced by ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie on Tuesday morning at a company meeting. In its 75-year history, the company said its only other African-American principal dancer was Desmond Richardson, who joined as principal in 1997.

In her new role, Copeland, 32, will not only get more time at center stage, but she will also be paid more, receive more publicity, and gain more widespread respect. The dancer is no stranger to the spotlight, however. 

Copeland appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in April and was profiled on “60 Minutes” in May. Her accomplishments include authoring a memoir, ”Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” as well as a children’s book, “Firebird.” She’s also the subject of a documentary screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. 

Last year, the clothing brand Under Armour featured Copeland in their “I Will What I Want” campaign, which focused on seasoned female athletes. The video has been viewed more than 8 million times. 

In her memoir, Copeland talks about the goal of becoming a principal dancer. “My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company,” she wrote. “That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.”

Copeland was born in Kansas City and raised in San Pedro, California. She entered the ballet world at age 13 and won first place in the Music Center Spotlight Awards.

After the announcement, Copeland took to Twitter and Instagram — two social platforms where she has amassed a large follower count — to express gratitude for her fans’ congratulatory remarks. 

Along with Copeland, dancers Stella Abrera, Maria Kochetkova and Alban Lendorf were also promoted to principals. 

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Misty Copeland makes history as ABT's principal dancer