Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Person to Know

Misty Copeland

Original Publication
February 5, 2014
Last Updated
Jan 16, 2023 3:35 AM

Spotlight on Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland is a soloist in the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). According to some sources, she is the first black soloist for ABT.[1][4] Another, however, states that she is the first black soloist in 20 years and the third in the theatre's history.[2] Either way, she has climbed the ranks even from a general late start at ballet. Performing as soloist in multiple productions as well as alongside Prince,[3][4] Copeland is breaking the mold in the ballet world and changing the image in an otherwise white art.


Ballet is a notoriously white art. The aesthetic expectations—from costumes and “nude” colors that are available to body shape expectations—lean toward whiteness. As a little girl, I had the opportunity to try ballet and took it because all the girls in my preschool were signing up. I was the only black girl in the program. At that age, I didn’t experience anything that said I couldn’t succeed as a ballerina, but I also never saw anyone like me on stage. I stuck with dance for a few years before quitting (for non-race-related reasons), but had I actually enjoyed the activity, I can definitely see how it would have become disheartening over time.

Misty Copeland’s success in ballet allows little black girls to see themselves in the same position. I think it’s self explanatory that her success paves the way for and inspires others who want to take the same path. However, there’s a much larger impact in seeing Misty Copeland as a solo ballerina.


Ballerinas are the epitome of femininity and gracefulness. Historically, however, black women haven’t gotten to be dainty and feminine. While white feminists lambast Disney princesses for being damsels in distress, this is an image that has never been associated with black women. In media, we have always been portrayed as the angry black woman, the mammy, or the jezebel. Misty Copeland as a ballerina is one of the few images of a black woman in this light.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

I was young

Everyone was doing it—

Blonde ponytails, pink tutus

And then there was me...

If I'd noticed,

Maybe I would've quit

But I loved it

And I wanted to shine.

Twirl and twirl

On pointed toe,

Ribbons and colors

Music and art—

Sugar plum fairy dreams

Swirling through snowflakes

And me in the background

Awaiting my chance...

Expensive dreams,

Pirouetting in front of me

Taunting and haunting

Until at last I concede.

References & Footnotes

  1. Meredith Turits. "Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre's First African-American Soloist in 20 Years, Talks Breaking Barriers with Aplomb". Glamour Interview. April 23, 2012
  2. Robyn Carolyn Price. "ABT’s Misty Copeland Talks to Vogue Italia About Being a “Black Ballerina”". Huffington Post. January 23, 2014
  3. "Misty Copeland". American Ballet Theatre; visited February 2014
  4. Rebecca Carroll"Misty Copeland On Prince And The Curvy Ballerina Revolution". Huffington Post. September 14, 2011

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