This past week Misty Copeland was promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). She probably would have been promoted back in 2012 if she wasn’t sidelined for the whole season due to six stress fractures in her tibia. Needless to say, she was not the only promoted dancer this past week. Stella Abrera, who joined ABT in 1996 became a principal, as well as two new dancers, Maria Kochetkova (San Francisco Ballet) and Alban Lendorf (Royal Danish Ballet) joined ABT as principals. Did you know that at the beginning of June there were two new principals at the New York City Ballet – Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley? Right now, all I see in the papers, on blogs and in magazines is that Misty Copeland is the first African-American principal at ABT. My question is why is this about race? Becoming a principal dancer no matter what race or ethnicity is an amazing accomplishment. I believe that bringing race into it is only adding to the racism, segregation, and discrimination in the world. Now, sit down, hear me out, and read till the end before you judge me.
Becoming a principal dancer is a dream. A principal is the highest rank in a dance company that any dancer can receive. These particular dancers not only perform solos regularly, but also are the main casting for pas de duex in the company. It is a coveted position and is one that every dancer strives to be. Becoming a professional dancer is no easy task. It takes a lot of sacrifice that most people cannot even begin to comprehend. In many cases, students begin training at a young age and as they hit around ten to twelve years old it develops into an intense training. Student dancers who are striving to reach a professional level usually become home schooled and then spend all their free time in a studio training, rehearsing, and practicing. They sleep, eat, and breath dance.
With the dedication that students have to put into this one and a million chance dream there comes a lot of failure and risk. The dancer doesn’t
always get the role they want, they don’t always get hired by the company they want, or make the money they want, but humility, respect, and discipline are all the things a dancer gets because of these types of failures. There is a respect for the art form, for their colleagues, and for choreographers that push them past their breaking point to make them better than they ever thought they could become. Being a dancer there is a risk everyday. You never know when your career is going to end. A dancer could have a career ending injury, or a company could fold (i.e. Cedar Lake Ballet last month) and that could be it.
In this world, no matter what profession you are in, you need to prove your value and become invaluable. Misty Copeland is an innovator. She brought a spotlight to the ballet world through sponsorships, charity work, mentorships, and becoming a spokes person for the art form. She has become a part of the public eye and ABT would have been crazy not to promote her. Stella Abrera showed dedicated and determination to one company for over twenty years! Lauren Lovette started dance as a late bloomer and she was rejected the first time she auditioned for the School of American Ballet (SAB). Anthony Huxley has been with NYCB since 2007 and started in the SAB in 2002. That’s thirteen years with a company starting as a child!
These talented, young, and thriving principal dancers have so much to offer the world, but all of this accomplishment has been shadowed by the issue of discrimination. The definition of discrimination is the treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person based on the group, class, or category to which that person belongs rather than on individual merit. This does not only include color, but there are other forms of discrimination out there like income, gender, or ethnicity. My father had to sneak around to play with his friends as a child because of where he lived. There are all types of discrimination out there. The sooner we as a society stop looking at things such as color, ethnicity, income, and gender as a threat or out of fear, the sooner we as a society are going to grow and hirer the best people for the job.