As one of the most well-known ballet dancers in the world, Misty Copeland is determined to inspire kids to follow their dreams. With her second children's book, Bunheads ($17), hitting shelves on Sept. 29, we caught up with Misty to discuss why we need representation in the arts and why instilling a sense of confidence in little ones from the get-go is so important.
"I want kids to see themselves," Misty told POPSUGAR. "I want them to see the beauty in dance, and how it brings people together. It doesn't matter your colour. It doesn't matter your age. It's for everyone. [Dance is] a universal language that unites people. It's often negatively depicted in film, television, and in the media. I wanted to show the other side that most dancers experience. Most dancers don't experience the Black Swan movie. You develop a really beautiful camaraderie with people that you spend time with in such an intimate setting."
Given her long, rewarding career as a ballet dancer, her book is based on the hours she's spent at the barre. "The story of Bunheads is based on my experience as a young girl," shared Misty. "[When I entered] into the ballet world for the first time, I built relationships with other dancers that weren't like me. We found beauty and commonality through dance, discovered our differences, and learned from them."
As the first Black woman to ever be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre's 75-year history, seeing accurate representation in the arts is incredibly important to Misty.
"Black people, in general, are often just slowly cut out of experiences, especially in dance," she explained. "The more that we can celebrate and highlight Black people and include them in all areas of art, that's how we progress. That's how we grow and diversify. To see representation as a child — even if it's just visually — is so powerful and gets [you] into the psyche of what you think is possible. If you don't see yourself, you just don't think that you can do it."
"To see representation as a child — even if it's just visually — is so powerful and gets [you] into the psyche of what you think is possible."
Now, more than ever, Misty wants little kids to know that they can truly do anything. But of course, parents need to instill that concept in their children right off the bat. "This is where it starts. You need to reach kids at a young age," explained Misty. "Start to empower them before all the negativity [influences] what they can't do and can't be."
For Misty — who's travelled with the American Ballet Theatre dance company for 20 years — dance is a true art form with teamwork at its essence. Despite her enormous success, she's no stranger to criticism, but she's never let the words of strangers get her down.
"Of course there's negativity, especially internally as a Black woman," Misty explained, noting that the outside pressure can be extreme. "In this day and age with social media . . . it's always been about having a support system around me. It's really about the people that you trust and those who care about you. Those are the words that you should be absorbing and taking in. If you give other people's words too much weight then it'll start to define you."
A true prodigy — she was dancing en pointe after three months of ballet class, after all! — Misty has some advice for children who are on the fence about taking their first class: "That first step is always so scary," she shared. "But when you're in a dance class, you're not alone, you're not the only one who doesn't know everything. Everyone's there together, learning. Look at it as a way of making these incredible relationships with the dancers around you and to ultimately have fun."