Misty Copeland: What it Takes to Dance
- Updated: August 6, 2014
Under Armour, known for advertisements starring masculine athletes, highlights some impressive female athletes in their new campaign: I Will What I Want. Founded in 1996, by 23-year-old, then University of Maryland fullback, Kevin Plank, Under Armour is known for front running the moisture-wicking apparel common in sportswear today. With a recent appropriation of $500 million of the company’s $3 billion revenue towards a new line of women’s apparel, the company’s recent endorsement of Misty Copeland has challenged the sentiment that ballet is not a sport.
Under Armour’s ad campaign with American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland shows both her grace and power as a dancer. The sponsorship is a huge deal even for a prima ballerina at the top of her pay range, $50,000-$100,000 yearly salary in a ballet company. The sensitive topic of race in ballet is not addressed in the Under Armour ad, but Copeland’s honesty and experiences sheds some light about exclusion in the ballet word.
Unlike skier Lindsey Vonn, tennis player Sloane Stephens, soccer player Kelley O’Hara, and even pro surfer Brianna Copeland, Under Armour’s endorsement has sparked some discussion about the athleticism versus the artistry of dancers. The debate about whether Misty Copeland is Under Armour’s first “non-athlete” endorsement, however, is for less noteworthy than her featured story.
Raised by a struggling single mother of four, Copeland took her first introductory dance class at a Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles. Inspired by a Lifetime movie about gymnast Nadia Comaneci, Copeland started dancing at age 13. Most professional ballerinas get their start at age 4, but within months of her first dance class Copeland was declared a dance prodigy. She was originally rejected from the American Ballet Theater based on her age, lack of training and build—large bust, big feet, and muscular legs. As she matured, she continued to grow out of the traditional shape of a ballerina. She was shorter than her peers and a definite racial minority. She, however, became the second black soloist in the history of the prestigious ballet company.
Dance can be very competitive as well as expensive. The 2014-2015 tuition rates at the School of American Ballet in NYC range from $2900-$5700 a year, with ten different levels from preparatory to advance classes. Annual registration is $75 with room and board an additional $16,270 for residence, meals, technology fees and health insurance. The children’s program at Joffrey Ballet School, also in NYC, offers semester classes at $690 with a $50 non-refundable registration fee. A pair shoes—pointe, tap, jazz, et cetera—cost $ 30-90. A leotard costs $20-40, bottoms $15-30 and skirts/dresses $30-60.
The School of American Ballet, as well as other dance schools, has made efforts to diversify their demographics. In 1998, the age of potential students was lowered to 6 years older in order to broaden the applicant pool. They also started holding community auditions in Chinatown, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Harlem. Auditions for children 6-10 usually cost $25, but community auditions are free. This increased the minority enrollment in the children’s division from 13% to 22%. However, 70% of the dancers who join the City Ballet come from the school’s highly competitive summer program for girls 12-18 who mostly come from outside New York. There are few minority applicants from around the country, even from cities like Chicago and Detroit.
Virginia Johnson, former star of Dance Theater of Harlem and editor of Pointe magazine, attributes the disparity primarily to economics and culture. Ballet is expensive and competitive among women. Misty Copeland, however, proves that desire and passion for her sport helped her overcome her lack of exposure and economic background to excel in her sport. Says Copeland: “Life was so hard that I think that I almost needed to become a ballet dancer to develop as a person.”
Author: Melanie Carbine
Melanie Carbine has degrees in English Literature and Math Education from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. She has lived in various parts of the world including Micronesia and the United States. She currently writes for several education blogs, vlogs about her travels, and teaches middle school in the DC Metro Area.