History-making ballerina appearing at the university

History-making ballerina appearing at the university

Misty Copeland will perform the title role in Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird" Feb. 16, 2018, at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
Courtesy photo
Misty Copeland will perform the title role in Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird" Feb. 16 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. She will also deliver the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues on Feb. 13.

In the midst of Black History month, a history-making ballerina will appear on the stage of the Lied Center for the Performing Arts for an unprecedented production.

Misty Copeland is the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre, the New York City-based classical ballet company once led by ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov. The U.S. Congress designated the company as "America's National Ballet Company" in 2006.

Misty Copeland

Copeland was described as a "pop culture juggernaut and riveting ballet force" by the Detroit Free Press before the American Ballet Theatre performed at the Detroit Opera House Feb. 8-11. She is to dance the lead role in Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird" Feb. 16, the first of two American Ballet Theatre performances at the Lied Center. The 2,258-seat Lied Center is sold out for both performances.

The performance is unprecedented because the ballet company will be performing for the first time with the St. Louis Symphony, a Grammy Award-winning orchestra ranked among the best in the nation.

In addition to her dance performance, the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues will present "A Conversation with Misty Copeland" at 7 p.m. Feb. 13. Although tickets for the event are sold out, it will be livestreamed from the E.N. Thompson website. and broadcast live on Lincoln ALLO channel #2, Spectrum channel #1300, Windstream channel #5, and State channel #4

Copeland's life story is compelling - "one of those stories you think some Lifetime movie will come of it," she has said. The daughter of a single mother, she was born in Kansas City and reared in San Pedro, California. When she discovered ballet at age 13, she was living in a shabby motel room, fighting with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor.

She was dancing en pointe within three months of her first ballet lesson and performing professionally within just more than a year. She met rejection at first. One ballet academy rejected her application, saying her feet, Achilles tendons, torso and bust didn't meet the requirements for a ballet.

""You have the wrong body for ballet,'" she recounted from the letter in a 2014 interview with ABC News. What that letter told her, she said, was "I'm black - and we don't count in the ballet world."

But Copeland followed in the footsteps of other famous black ballet dancers, such as Arthur Mitchell, who was a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet from 1962 to 1971, and Raven Wilkinson, who became the first African-American to dance with a major touring troupe in the 1950s. Wilkinson, who encountered the Ku Klux Klan while touring in the South, became a mentor to Copeland.

In addition to becoming a principal dancer in 2015, Copeland has published a wellness book, "Ballerina Body," she has become a face of Estée Lauder, and has had a Barbie doll created in her honor.

In the ABC News interview, she has said she is proof that a little girl's dream can come true

"You can change someone's life by allowing them to be part of something so special - and that's what it did for me."