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Misty Copeland Becomes First Black Principal Dancer At American Ballet Theatre


And this means an extra second of celebration today for ballerina Misty Copeland. She was promoted to principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre - the first African-American to hold that position. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has more.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The 32-year-old ballerina has inspired huge, diverse crowds to see her perform at Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House, as recently as last week, in "Swan Lake." Misty Copeland has been with the American Ballet Theatre, or ABT, for nearly 15 years. She was a soloist, but as she told NPR last year, she's always wanted to be a principal dancer, the top prize in a ballet company.


MISTY COPELAND: Before I knew that there'd never been a black woman, that was always my goal. I wanted to dance Odette-Odile and Kitri in "Don Quixote" and Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty." Knowing that it's never been done before I think makes me fight even harder.

DEL BARCO: Fight even harder, she said because of some of the challenges she faced. First, as one of six children with a struggling single mother. Copeland told NPR, when she first started ballet lessons at 13, they were living in a motel. When Copeland started dancing professionally, she found that being biracial - half black, half white - became an issue.


COPELAND: I was the one brown girl up there, and some people just thought that I kind of ruined the aesthetic of the group.

DEL BARCO: As she moved up the ranks at the ABT, Copeland publicly called out the racism of some dance critics who questioned her body type.


COPELAND: Saying that, you know, African-Americans are too muscular or just aren't lean enough. When people meet me in person, they're usually surprised at how petite I am.

DEL BARCO: Copeland has been active in promoting herself and ballet for all. She wrote a best-selling memoir and a popular children's book. She made the cover of Time magazine and was featured on TV's "60 Minutes." She's the subject of a new documentary and has more than a half-a-million Instagram followers. A commercial she did for Under Armour sportswear went viral. Copeland performed in concert with Prince and she even judged contestants on a TV dance competition. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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