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'She's a barrier-breaking artist': Carolina Performing Arts to host dancer Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland.jpg

Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre's first Black female principal dancer, will be speaking at Memorial Hall on Sept. 6. Photo courtesy of Under Armour. 

Carolina Performing Arts will be hosting Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre’s first Black female principal dancer, to kick off CPA’s 15th anniversary season at Memorial Hall on Sept. 6 at 8 p.m.

In an evening of conversation with Susan Jaffe, dean of dance at the UNC School of the Arts, Copeland will explore how she found her voice as an artist, her path to the American Ballet Theatre and the ongoing challenges in the world of ballet. 

Arts & Culture editor Jessica Hardison spoke with Jess Abel, Carolina Performing Arts marketing and communications coordinator, about Copeland’s upcoming talk and how Copeland will bring a different perspective to campus.

The Daily Tar Heel: Why did members of the Carolina Performing Arts team decide to bring Copeland to UNC?

Jess Abel: One of the major goals of CPA's 15th anniversary season is to celebrate the creative leadership of women in all forms, and Misty Copeland definitely embodies that creative leadership and so much more. She's a world-class dancer, she's a barrier-breaking artist and a determined and inspiring person. It's definitely an honor to have her kick off our season. 

DTH: What about Copeland stands out as a performer? What makes her unique from other dancers?

JA: For starters, she didn't begin dancing until she was 13, which is a lot later than most professional dancers begin their practice. She also rose to an incredibly high level of dance really quickly. In just two years, she began to garner attention nationally, and then she studied at the San Francisco Ballet School and the School of American Ballet for her intensive program, and she did that on a full ride. Through all that success, she was also battling people who told her that she was too muscular or that she lacked the right look or the right form. 

Now, in her professional career, her strength, dramatic style and energy are what a lot of dance critics often point to as her strongest qualities. So I think in the end, the same things she was criticized for in her earlier days are her greatest strengths now as a performer.

DTH: What do Copeland's story and perspective bring to campus?

JA: She is the first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, and they've been around for over 75 years, so that's incredible. She can offer perspectives into her career and the discipline of dance and diversity and classical ballet that I don't think any other dancer can. We definitely encourage anyone in our community to take advantage of her being here on campus. 

DTH: What will attendees gain from an evening in conversation with Copeland?

JA: I think that same perspective of her being the first ever Black woman as one of American Ballet Theatre's principal dancers is a part of it, and she's also in the midst of her performance season right now. So it's definitely an honor that she's taking a break from actually dancing to come speak with us. While she's here, she'll be focusing on her career, diversity, ballet and her hopes for the future of dance, so we'll get a good perspective on that. 

DTH: How does Copeland fit into the greater theme of the Carolina Performing Arts 15th anniversary season?

JA: One of my favorite aspects of this season is that a vast majority of performances are either produced, created or directed by women — or the performances themselves are women-led — so most of the performers on stage will be women. Misty definitely encompasses all of this because she's an artist who has pushed boundaries since the beginning of her career, and she's always had to self-advocate when someone doubted her. She's a leader at American Ballet Theatre and in her dance community and beyond that, so she's everything we're hoping to honor this season wrapped up into our season opener. 

DTH: How do members of CPA think her story will impact the UNC community? 

JA: We hope everyone who is able to attend Misty's talk will have a greater appreciation not just for how much energy, effort and strength Misty herself has committed to becoming the artist that she is, but for every artist who's tasked with breaking the barriers in their field that Misty has already broken. It's definitely an awesome opportunity to hear from an artist who's at the top of her game, and we just hope that everyone in the UNC community and surrounding communities take advantage of her being here. 


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