2015 essay this the future

This the future: Misty Copeland

The future I live and love is this woman who wrote “This is for the little brown girls” five times in the prologue of her memoir and more throughout the book. Knowing that she was a soloist with ABT…

Rehearsal of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performance of Exodus

A Black woman named Beverly Maggio ushered me into a conscious love of dance – on accident as much as it was on purpose. Though I had taken a ton of music courses and a few visual art courses in college, I was forced to take an arts appreciation my last undergraduate term to graduate. Rather than be redundant, and because I thought it would be interesting, I chose dance. It was a necessary evil to everyone else in class (and I suspect to most people who take arts appreciation), but to me it was three weeks of being exposed to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Twyla Tharpe, Martha Graham, George Balanchine, Cholly Atkins, the Nicholas Brothers, etc. Because I was/am an arts nerd (in the sense of intellectual curiosity and emotion for it, not expertise) and Mrs. Maggio knew and loved dance – a fact I think contributed to students’ lack of enthusiasm since passion can be a deterrent as much as an invitation to those outside it – I picked up on that and grew more wonder and awe about the art and its artists. I delight at amateurs and professionals‘ movement and expression with their bodies and the intelligence and feeling and sweat behind the movement.

This wonder and awe has landed on and taken flight with many extraordinary people including 32-year old Misty Copeland who was announced as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, becoming the first Black woman to be principal in ABT’s 75 year history.

When I first learned of Misty, saw those gorgeous lines and motion, and heard her speak on her purpose, I wanted to know more. I searched for more pictures of her artistic form, watched videos of her, looked up articles, read her book from the front cover to the index, and followed her on social media. I found her fascinating as an artist and as a person.

Good Morning America feature on Misty Copeland in which she discusses her ballet journey and favorite junk food

The more I learned about her, the more I loved dance and felt grateful that she chose to dance. And the more I – an awkward, flat-footed, not-so-graceful 5′8″ woman – could relate to the magnificent, fluid, captivating, 5′2″ force that is Misty Copeland. (I missed or ignored the fact she is 5′2″. In my mind we were the same height. Maybe she was even taller.) She shares her story and art in such a way that at times it makes clumsy me say “Yes, girl! ME, TOO!”

[Gif image: Misty Copeland says “I’m 5′2″. I started when I was 13. I’m Black.” with a facial expression and hand gestures part amused, part amazed, part saying “But I did it. But I’m here!”]

The future I live and love is this woman who wrote “This is for the little brown girls” five times in the prologue of her memoir and more throughout the book. Knowing that she was a soloist with ABT – this exquisite artist who challenged the notion of where a classical ballerina can come from and what a classical ballerina looks like (in color and physique) – filled me with pride. When I checked Twitter June 30 and saw she had been promoted to PRINCIPAL? OMGOMGOMG!!! I had more pride than I had space to store it. I wanted to cry and scream “HELL YES!” and fly out to New York and hug this woman I had never met because she had achieved her dream. Many of the we – Black people, women especially – took the triumph personally yet collectively as we tend to do every win one of us gets. In our souls it was our success acquired by Misty for us: for the Black dancers who came before; for the Black dancers in motion now; for those who, like Misty, have heard the murmurs (or loud declarations) that we weren’t enough; for those who are told we have the wrong color, the wrong body, the wrong background to belong or to be great (even before they see what we can do, even after they see we CAN do it); for those who have been drained by the loneliness, the dismissals, the migroaggressions that we’re supposed to shrug off, and so relish the spaces and people where we don’t have to explain or translate ourselves and where we can rekindle our fire; for the little brown girls of every dream; and for those of us with a little brown girl in our soul who leaped with her and said, “Ok. Let’s keep going.”

Of her identity, mixed roots, and heritage, Misty wrote, “I choose to define myself. I am a black woman, and my identity is not a card to play, or a label that I begrudgingly accept because it’s been assigned to me. It’s the African-American culture that has raised me, that has shaped my body and my worldview.”

Misty unapologetically carries Us with her onto the grand stages and into the spotlight.

[Gif image:  Misty Copeland and Clifford Williams rehearse the pas de deux “Ave Maria.” Misty stands en pointe in front of Clifford facing forward and lifts her right leg to out to the right side and straight up. Clifford grabs the right leg at the ankle with his right hand and Misty spins on the left leg (turning head down to her right to pass under Clifford’s arm) and around 360 degrees between her body and Clifford’s to arrive back in the position – facing forward, standing on the left toe with Clifford holding the right leg up at the ankle – before going to the next movement.]

This the future.

In the title “This the Future” I use an intentional zero copula (meaning no verb) in the fashion of AAVE and other languages/dialects/sociolects. So, no, I did not mean “This is the Future.” I mean This. The. Future.

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