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In June, Misty Copeland became the first African-American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater. After her historic promotion was announced, Copeland reflected on how her colleagues perceived past promotions and opportunities she received. She cited a conversation with a ballet master during a press conference saying: “She said to me yesterday, ‘Don’t be offended by what I am about to say, but I just look at you as a talented dancer who has earned really-hard-to-get roles. So I didn’t think twice that it’s a big deal for an African-American woman to be performing in Swan Lake. I just thought you deserved it.’”

Although the ballet master’s comment could be deemed positive, Copeland opened up about a much different experience in Nelson George’s documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale. In it, Copeland spoke about feeling isolated  in the predominately white industry of dance: “I’m a Black dancer. That’s who I am. It’s so much a part of my story. I didn’t fit the mold. Based on my body type, pedigree, and background, I should not have been part of one of the world’s greatest ballet companies.” She continued to note how her physical body shape was and is still a barrier because it doesn’t fit the average ballet dancer standards. “I don’t think the ballet world will ever accept me. I have a large chest [and] I’m muscular.”

Despite the challenging work environment and harmful physical injuries, Copeland remained committed to becoming a triumphant source of inspiration for young Black girls and women.

Watch how Copeland broke personal and professional barriers in the trailer for A Ballerina’s Tale, below.

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