It's rare when a late-starter becomes a professional dancer—much less with one of ballet's most prestigious companies—but Misty Copeland breaks the mold. She experienced her first tendu at 13, thanks to a Boys and Girls Club, and today, she's American Ballet Theatre's first African-American female soloist.
Copeland's fast track in pre-professional training led her to study with Diane Lauridsen at Lauridsen Ballet Centre in California, who Copeland thanks for her solid technique.
"When I was 15, I went to Diane because everyone said I had so much potential. But at her studio, I wasn't a star and she didn't treat me like one. I was like anyone else and I appreciate how hard she was on me. I was taking three classes a day: Beginning ballet with five and six-year-olds, an intermediate class and an advanced class. I had to catch up.
She was adamant about building strong technique. I'm flexible, have hyper-extended knees and really mobile feet--you'd think it's a blessing, but she didn't let me sit back and rely on my talent. When you get older, you start to lose some of that natural facility. I know I'll always have a clean base to fall back on."
Photo: Misty Copeland in Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream, by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT