Today is March 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you feel as though you are starting too late?” American ballet dancer Misty Danielle Copeland said “You can start late. Look different. Be uncertain. And still succeed. The opportunities are out there. You just have to believe in yourself and not let anyone's words come in and define you and change your path. You are going to hear 'no' in life no matter what you do. You just have to keep pushing and persevering. And I think it's important to know that it doesn't matter what your skin color is or your body shape is. Whatever you want to do, you should go for it.”
Copeland tells her story in Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. She started learning ballet at 13 years of age, much later than when most dancers start, taking her first class on a basketball court at a Boys and Girls Club. Since most dancers take up to 15 years to get the right amount of training to make it to a professional level by 17 years of age, she had to shove all of that into four years. By age 15, her mother and ballet teachers, who were serving as her custodial guardians, fought a very public custody battle over her.
The 1998 legal issues involved filings for emancipation by Copeland and restraining orders by her mother. Both sides dropped legal proceedings, and Copeland moved home to begin studying under a new teacher who was a former American Ballet Theater (ABT) member.
In 1997, Copeland won the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award as the best dancer in Southern California. After two summer workshops with ABT, she became a member of ABT's Studio Company in 2000 and its corps de ballet in 2001, and became an ABT soloist in 2007. As a soloist from 2007 to mid-2015, she was described as having matured into a more contemporary and sophisticated dancer.
On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT's 75-year history. With a non-traditional entry into ballet, Copeland has created buzz outside of that world due to her being one of the few African-American performers seen in classical dance. In a meteoric rise, she has continually acknowledged the responsibility she feels to others looking to make their way in dance.
Her trailblazing accomplishments have been recognized by a range of institutions, and in spring 2015 she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. How often do you feel as though you are starting too late, think you look too different, or remain uncertain?