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  • Malisa Payne

Dance Even if it's Broken

Misty Copeland is the first Black principal dancer for a major ballet company and a hero in our family. What year did she earn this honor, 1965? I was surprised to learn that it was June of 2015 that Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in American Ballet Theater's 75-year history. She was the first. She has since accomplished feats of physical strength and beauty that few will ever come close to displaying. Though celebrating every detail of her magnificent movements would be enough to make her a hero in any household, that is not the sole reason we hold her in such high esteem in my home.

My family is in awe of her because she danced even when it was broken.

The first time that Misty Copeland performed the Firebird she danced on six stress fractures to her tibia. Why did she push through so much pain? No one can know exactly what such a significant feat must have meant to this beautiful dancer, but I can’t help but feel the answer in part was because she was the first.

While watching video of the Firebird performance, I can’t separate the fact that she was making history at the same time that she was gifting us. She was changing the world with every move. She was the first. She was dancing because her people depended on her. She was dancing because she loved the dance. She was dancing to share hope, love, and connection. Her performance of the Firebird was so much more than a dance. It has meant so much more to me and my daughter.

Misty Copeland is a beautiful creation and we celebrate that. She is a magnificent dancer that could inspire anyone, and we celebrate that also. She stands for accomplishment, perseverance, dignity, and the rising of her people and we celebrate. What I love about Copeland is that she cares for more than herself. I admire her hard work and dedication. I am moved by her active commitment to being a role model to so many. I am grateful she allowed me to see that ballet is even more beautiful in color. I am so grateful to her for sharing her talents and leaving me and my daughter changed. Thank you, Misty Copeland, for just being you.

Here is a link to an incredible documentary about Misty Copeland that is also available on Netflix:

And a link to a children’s book about the Firebird:


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