Since making history as the first Black Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has left us enamored with the grace and sophistication she exudes on stage. Now, the founder of Swans for Relief—a fund for dancers and companies around the globe impacted by the pandemic—is using her notoriety to shine the spotlight on women who deserve a standing ovation.
In partnership with Ford, the 38-year-old ballet dancer launched the #ShowSomeMuscle Campaign to prompt everyday heroes to share their personal stories of perseverance, ingenuity, compassion, and creativity during these unprecedented times. We recently chatted with Copeland to discuss the initiative and the strides she's made in dance and wellness, especially while sheltering-in-place at home. During the candid conversation, the ballerina also divulged her secret to maintaining her dancer's physique. Keep scrolling to read everything Copeland had to say.
Do you think that representation in the theatre industry has evolved since the beginning of your career?
For the first time in my 20 years as a professional, we’re focusing on all the things that need to change in the theater world—especially in classical ballet. Theatre is so far behind in many different conversations, but we're finally having real conversations. Actions are being taken towards things that need to be addressed. I feel like I'm being heard. I feel like we’re being heard more clearly, and it's exciting.
The dance community can be very competitive. How do you maintain your mental health when the competition gets tough? What tips do you have for other dancers?
Ballet is perceived and depicted in film and television as a competitive sport or art, but the person you’re hardest on is yourself. I think that it's really about focusing on yourself and trying your best. If you are looking at other people, you have to change your perspective. Instead, see what you can learn from them without putting yourself down.
That's just been my journey as a dancer. I think I was always perceived as different because I am Black. This experience has allowed me to say to myself, "It is what it is, focus on yourself, and be the best you can be." Finding balance and a support system are also important aspects.
Let's talk about self-care. What do you to rest and relax?
Rest and self-care are as equally as important as the eight hours a day that I train. One to two times a week, I get a sports massage. I like a gentle touch to undo all of the trauma I put my body through. Dance is not only an art form, but it’s also a sport.
Mentally being able to decompress is necessary. Whether it's journaling, speaking with a sports therapist, listening to music, or just having conversations with my husband, I think those are all great ways of taking care of yourself and setting aside time.
Have you experienced changes in your skin since show production has halted?
It's been amazing. Being be able to give my skin a break has been a great reset. I'm not a huge fan of putting makeup on anyway, which is kind of funny considering all the makeup I have to do when I’m getting ready to perform.
I’ve been taking this opportunity to be in my natural form, and my skin has definitely been shining brighter thanks to keeping a fresh face and maintaining a healthy diet. I think that plays a major role in the way my skin looks as well.
How did you maintain your dancer's physique during the last year?
It's very hard. It's really difficult to achieve the level of training that I’m accustomed to at home. I'm definitely not in the shape that I would be in if I were preparing to go on stage, but I’ve been finding ways to continue to keep my body moving. I’ve been taking a Pilates class in my living room over Zoom. Stretching and walking are all things that anyone can do, and it's so important for our physical and mental health to move our bodies at least once a day.
Do you think the dance community can improve when it comes to body inclusivity?
Oh, absolutely. There's a lot of work to be done. I’m completely invested in ballet as an art form and its future, so I think it's important to have these conversations and point out the things we want to improve. Body inclusivity is definitely one of them because body image issues are prominent in ballet.
When it comes to the "ballet body" stereotype, it's often shown that ballerinas are thin with no muscles. But, there's no way for a body to sustain and continue to have a professional career if you don't have the physical strength. What's incredible about the #ShowSomeMuscle social campaign with Ford is that it’s breaking stereotypes of what people define as feminine or masculine and what strength looks like.
How do you find strength in beauty?
There are so many versions of what beauty is to different people. To me, strength is so empowering and beautiful. Beyond physical strength, inner strength is important. Being a supportive friend, being an incredible mother, being a nurturer, being a giver are all examples of incredible strength, and that is the ultimate beauty.
On the topic of strength, how does the first female Vice President inspire you?
Being able to see representation is so powerful, especially for children. I think people typically would be like, "It's so empowering for young girls." But I think it’s equally inspiring for young boys. Seeing a woman in a position of power like Vice President can completely change the relationship they have with women, how they view women, and how they view what women are capable of. There are so many amazing and positive things that will come from having Kamala Harris in this position. It’s an incredibly historic and powerful moment.