As soon as barre3 Georgetown instructor Alicia Sokol finished Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland, she reached out to us and told us that this would be the perfect book club pick. We couldn’t agree more. Read on to hear from Alicia herself why this book is not to be missed.
Have you seen the new ad campaign by Under Armour, themed “I Will What I Want?” The campaign features strong, beautiful women who have risen to the top of their professions through hard work, perseverance and iron will. I’m not a TV watcher at home, but I was dining at a restaurant one evening when an image on the bar TV took my breath away. The muscular calves above nude pointe shoes caught my eye first. Then a wide shot revealed the sculpted curves of a dancer with tawny skin. I watched the spot until the end, unsure what the commercial was for or who the woman was. She stayed in my mind and a day or two later, I stumbled upon the memoir of Misty Copeland and put the pieces together. (See Misty dance on her “I Will What I Want” page here.)
Growing up in southern California, Misty spent much of her childhood shuttled from place to place, never staying long as her mother drifted in and out of marriages. For a period of time, the family lived in a rundown motel in a questionable neighborhood. A shy child, Misty found comfort in dancing first alone in her bedroom to TLC and George Michael, then later on stage for school performances and on drill team. Her mind was clear while dancing – no worries about where they would sleep, if there would be enough money for food or which of her mother’s boyfriends might be her next stepfather.
At the age of 13, her drill team coach suggested she try a ballet class after school at the local Boys and Girls Club. Misty showed up in her blue gym shorts and baggy white tee and stood along the barre next to girls clad in leotards and tights. Her dance teacher quickly discovered that Misty’s body moved and bent in just the right ways. She was encouraged to continue and even moved in with her dance teacher for a while to continue studying ballet.
Anyone who has danced (I have not!) can tell you it takes years to progress to pointe. Within just two months, Misty was on pointe and learning at lighting speed. She had found her home at the barre and despite the challenges she faced – too old, too curvy, too brown – she worked tirelessly, taking chances and opportunities that eventually elevated her to soloist with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. Today, she dances the most coveted of roles, such as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Previously, she became the first black woman in history to dance the lead role in Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird for a major ballet company.
The book entertains and dazzles with stories of Misty dancing on stage with Prince (atop a piano, no less!) and looking up to see herself on a 24-foot ad in front of the Metropolitan Opera. But her tales of struggle and heartache draw the reader in just as intensely – an ugly, very public custody battle between her mother and dance teacher, the pervasive undercurrent of racism in the white, privileged world of ballet, injuries and surgeries, and ultimately her battle to love and respect her body despite its nontraditional curves.
What I loved most about Ms. Copeland’s book was that many of the values that have carried her are the same we hold dear at barre3 – belief in one’s self, vigilant focus on the needs of our own bodies, learning to tune out external forces that do not serve us and pushing past our comfort level to rise to the next echelon. It’s unlikely that any of us will become a soloist for a major ballet company by exercising these values, but what we can learn from Misty Copeland’s story is this: the unlikely is not the impossible. With love, hard work, respect and proper care of your own beautiful body, you may be surprised what is indeed possible.