Misty Copeland is a rare breed.
Growing up in poverty in Los Angeles, she admits she had no real dreams or direction. Though the family struggled often, and at times was even homeless, Copeland came into contact with the world of ballet and started a more than 20-year journey that would end with her becoming only the third African-American ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theater.
Now Misty Copeland is speaking out in hopes of encouraging other girls to follow in their dream of dancing. Speaking to ABC News this week, Copeland said she hopes to see the traditional structures of American ballet fall so people from all backgrounds can join in.
“When it comes to classical ballet, you just don’t see it,” Copeland said of ballerinas from minority backgrounds. “People don’t want to break this tradition of what they think is the ideal image of a ballerina.”
She said there is still a lot of work to do.
“It’s really hard. The classical ballet world is so far behind,” Copeland said in an interview with Dan Harris in an interview for This Week.
Copeland says that growing up, her family didn’t have much time to think about luxuries like dance classes.
“We were pretty much homeless and were living in a motel, trying to scrape up enough money to go to the corner store to get [a] cup a noodle soup to eat,” Copeland said. “It was probably the worst time in my childhood when ballet found me.”
But when she was 13, Misty visited a Boys and Girls Club and found a dance teacher who helped her foster a love of ballet, and ultimately led to acceptance in one of the nation’s best ballet companies just a few years later.
Copeland said there is room for more teachers like that.
“To hear from a 7-year-old African-American girl, being told that, you know, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be in this ballet class because you won’t have a career,'” was a call to action for Copeland, she said.
Now Misty has become the encouraging teacher. She founded a program called Project Plié that recruits young dancers from diverse backgrounds, and speaks out often to encourage girls from all backgrounds to get into dance.
Misty Copeland has even received honors from the very place that kick-started her career. A few years ago she was inducted into the Boys and Girls Club National Hall of Fame.