Ballerina Misty Copeland says her message is more important than her dance moves

Photo by Greg Delman Misty Copeland

If you think Misty Copeland stands strong in those ballet slippers as the first Black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, wait until you hear her talk about the importance of Black unity and upliftment. Her passion for the subject will be on full display at “INSPIRED: A Conversation with Misty Copeland” at the U of M’s Northrop Auditorium on Sunday night. The event will benefit Northrop’s youth programs.

Now, I will admit, at first I thought, “She’s coming here just to talk? Why she ain’t dancing? I mean she’s a ballerina! Why do I need to pay money to hear her speak?”

As usual, my thinking was way off base. After talking to Ms. Misty, I realized that what she has to say to our community is more important than her gliding gracefully across the stage performing one of those impossible ballerina moves.

Now, not only am I going to the event, but I bought tickets for every little Black and brown girl I know as well. Cause Copeland is all about her people — Black people and especially Black girls and women. And she’s using her life and her talents to try and make life better for the next generation, so they won’t have to go through the same struggles that she did.

Why is it so important for her to give back to her community? She explains in the brief conversation that appears below.

Photo by Brad Trent/Northrop

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder: We are so happy to have you in Minneapolis. It’s been a while since you’ve been to the Bold North.

Misty Copeland:  I spent time here with Prince when I was working with him creating his “Welcome to America” tour, so it’s been a while, but I’m excited to be back.

MSR: Now you’ll be speaking at the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota on Sunday night. Initially, I thought you were going to dance but you’ll be chatting. What will you be talking about?

MC: I am an open book. Of course, whenever I speak, I like to speak about the books I’ve done and the projects I’m working on. My memoir, Life in Motion, is often a topic of discussion that comes up. I answer a lot of questions. I really just kind of share my life and the lessons and things that I’ve learned throughout my career from all the incredible people I’ve worked with [and the] mentors that I have.

MSR: I am so sorry to find out that one of your mentors died recently.

MC: Yes, that was really a blow for me when Anne Raven Wilkinson passed away. She will probably be a topic that will come up. We had a memorial service for her this past Monday. She was a huge influence on me being the first Black ballerina to dance in a major company in America.

MSR: It sounds like you have a lot to share with the Twin Cities audience.

MC: There is a lot to cover and I am here, present, and ready to connect to the community, and I think that is so important for someone like me, a Black woman.

MSR: I’m glad the title of this talk is “INSPIRED: A Conversation with Misty Copeland” because you inspire so many young African American women. My best friend Angela’s teenage daughter received a personal note from you encouraging her to keep dancing after her little sister died suddenly.

I couldn’t believe you took the time to do that. Then, when Angela posted her daughter Chelsea’s reaction on social media, the video went viral. It was just amazing.

MC: The purpose of my life is to be able to touch people or to connect with people. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

I have an amazing team and my whole purpose I feel — and I try not to lose sight of this — is to share my experiences. I would not be in this position as a dancer, as a Black woman, without the motivation and shared life lessons and experiences from other amazing Black women.

In the end, it’s like “Why am I doing all of this?” To connect with people and hopefully make things easier for the next generation to give back.

MSR: Your story, your life’s journey, is amazing and inspirational.

MC: Listen, Sheletta, coming from the environment where I come from and grew up in was truly a journey. I’m from a single parent home. Nothing was handed to me. Sometimes we lived in a motel, often times having no food on the table. So, I understand the importance of having someone there to set an example and give you motivation.

MSR: What do you want your legacy to be?

MC: I want people to remember me for helping and giving back to my community in some way. I think as Black people in America, I don’t know if we will ever be able to distance ourselves or get away from the fact that we came here as slaves. I think it is so important for us to connect and motivate one another and help each other out as sisters and brothers.

MSR: And how do you plan to do that?

MC: It’s simple: using my artform to change someone’s life. That is what dance did for me.

“INSPIRED: A Conversation with Misty Copeland” takes place on Sunday, March 31 at 7:30 pm at Northrop Auditorium located at 84 Church St., SE in Minneapolis. Tickets range from $20-$100.