JACKSON, MS – This week, even if you have no interest in ballet, you may have learned the name Misty Copeland.
She’s the woman smashing the color barrier at New York’s American Ballet Theatre by becoming the first African-American woman named a principal dancer there.
Copeland’s story continues to inspire young women in Mississippi. Tia Garland, who recently graduated from High School and out of Ballet Mississippi, danced in the Nutcracker last year
And at 17-years-old she can still clearly remember back a decade when she could only watch the older girl perform.
“It was my first time seeing them up close and I saw them and their dances were just so graceful. And I just wanted to be a part of that,” Tia Garland said.
Others in Jackson also say they share that connection to ballet.
“Dance has just really taught me how to express myself physically. And how to just really be a part of a creative art. And that’s really important to me,” Bria Paige, who also graduated this year, said.
“It brings me a lot of joy and I hope to bring people a lot of joy from the stage,” Sydney Arentsen, entering her sophomore year of school, said.
“I really love dancing and it’s important. When I start school it’s like really chaotic and when I come in here I can just relax and focus,” 13-year-old Nia Johnson said.
Their devotion to dance has only multiplied while learning more about Misty Copeland.
“I would say maybe a few years ago I had began to question myself on whether or not I wanted to continue dancing. And then I read about her. And actually she motivated me to keep going,” Garland said.
“You don’t really see that many African-American females getting higher positions in major ballet companies,” Garland.
“It just means a lot to see someone who looks like you because if you really look at ballet culture in the past, you know, there’s a certain frame, a certain look, a certain color,” Paige said.
“You know, the dance world as a whole, once you step off into the wings and back into the studio, it can be a very harsh environment depending on what people are looking for because you’re auditioning all over the place. You get a lot of ‘no’ and few ‘yes’,” Arentsen said.
So ultimately what does it mean?
Copeland’s story doesn’t necessarily mean a ballet overhaul has happened. But for these young women it’s more about the message.
“That just gave me hope. She’s like my role model. And so I was very happy for her and the rest of the girls just like me who idolize her,” Johnson said.
“I think it inspires the next generation to be bold,” Garland said.