Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in San Pedro, California. She began ballet at the age of 13 and studied at the Lauridsen Ballet Centre, San Francisco Ballet School and American Balley Theatre’s Summer Intensive. Copeland joined the American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in April 2001 and was appointed a soloist in August 2007.
In the past year, Copeland has danced a variety of leading roles. Her performances have become events, drawing in large and diverse crowds. She has performed at many prestigious venues including, the Metropolitan Opera House, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Recently she starred in “Swan Lake,” becoming the first African-American to do so with the Ballet Theater at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Copeland has also drawn attention outside the world of ballet, appearing in and being the face of national campaigns, including a commercial for Diet Dr. Pepper and Prince’s 2010 tour. In 2014 she became the first ballet dancer to appear in an Under Armour ad, which had more than four million views on YouTube in a week. Last year, Copland was named of one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and was featured on one of the covers for the issue.
Though her promotion and recent fame has been celebrated by many, it has also raised questions about why African-American dancers, mainly women, remain so underrepresented at top ballet companies in today’s society. Several dance companies and schools, including the Ballet Theater, have begun new efforts to increase diversity in classic ballet, however doing so will take years.
Copeland strength, talent and determination has opened doors for many women of color to follow in her footsteps. In additional to her many accomplishments, she has become involved in the American Ballet Theatre’s Project Plié, an initiative to draw more diverse dancers into elite ballet.
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