US & Canada

Misty Copeland is first black dancer to lead US ballet group

Dancer Misty Copeland Image copyright AP
Image caption Misty Copeland has become a breakout star for ballet

The American Ballet Theatre has named Misty Copeland its principal dancer - the first time a black ballerina has held the prestigious role.

Ms Copeland, 32, made her debut this month, starring in Swan Lake in New York, one of the most coveted roles in ballet.

In recent years, Ms Copeland has found fame outside of the ballet world.

She has appeared in commercials and TV shows and wrote a best-selling memoir.

"We haven't had a ballet dancer who has broken through to popular culture like this since Mikhail Baryshnikov," said Wendy Perron, an author and former editor of Dance Magazine.

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Media captionMisty Copeland on taking the lead in Swan Lake

The moment of her promotion was captured on video and shared on Instagram.

"Misty, take a bow," said Kevin McKenzie, the company's artistic director, as Ms Copeland fought back tears.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in San Pedro, California, Copeland began dance training at the relatively late age of 13 at the San Pedro City Ballet.

She studied at the Lauridsen Ballet Centre, San Francisco Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre's Summer Intensive on a full scholarship. She joined the main company as a member of the corps de ballet in April 2001 and was appointed a soloist in August 2007.

The dancer has also appeared in a Diet Dr Pepper commercial and danced with Prince on his 2010 tour.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Copeland is credited with bringing a diverse audience to ballet

And she has been unusually outspoken about her desire to become the first black woman to be named a principal dancer at the American Ballet.

"My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company," she wrote in her 2014 memoir. "That if I don't rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them."

In March, Ms Copeland told the BBC she thought it was important to talk about being a black woman in the very white world of American ballet.

"It's incredible to be a brown swan," she said of her current role in Swan Lake.

Her performance is already credited with bringing a new diverse audience to ballet.

"In the racially under-represented world of ballet, Misty has already had an historic impact," said Damian Woetzel, a former principal dancer for New York City Ballet. "Now, as a groundbreaking principal dancer, she will continue to inspire."

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