Misty Copeland admits she was an unlikely ballet dancer when she first hit the barre, but she never let any of it get in her way of making it to the world’s biggest stage as the first African-American soloist for the American Ballet Theatre in two decades. The ballerina shared her story with Self’s Editor-in-Chief Joyce Chang in celebration of the glossy’s Best Bodies issue Thursday night. After a Q&A with the editor, she took some time to talk Glam about her ballet buys and how to score her Old Hollywood aesthetic.
On her journey to the stage:
“My path from childhood until the time I started dancing was definitely not the path of a classic ballerina, not someone who’d make it to one of the top companies in the world. Being one of six children, struggling with a single parent, being biracial, and starting ballet at the age of 13–which is far too late to really succeed in a professional atmosphere. For me to have four years of training before being accepted to the American Ballet was extremely unlikely.
And then, my body completely changed when I was going through puberty at the age of 19 once I was already a professional. I had muscles and breasts and booty, and none of that is what a ballerina should be or that’s what we’ve been told. And being African American and being 5’2″, all of those things are unlikely, but I was born to be a ballerina and to share my experiences and my story. So I want this to be the new standard.
I had never heard classical music before, I’d never done any kind of structured training or sports or anything, and from the moment I heard classical music, I could feel it. I understood; my body just did everything, And then I fell in love with it, and then I got onstage, and on top of having all of those attributes, I was a performer naturally, so it all just came together.
At 13 I didn’t really have anything else going on, but when I was given this ultimatum of you either choose ballet and commit your life to it and become a professional or you don’t and you go on with living your life as you did before, it was like, ‘I’m in, I’ll give my everything.’ And I don’t think I really understood what that meant, and I was OK with it once it started happening. So I just take it one day at a time and make sure that I enjoy every step along the way, and that’s what I’m learning now. I haven’t lost that love.”
On her pre-performance rituals:
“I don’t really have any pre-performance rituals. I don’t warm up, which is kind of weird, but we rehearse up until two hours before the show, so my body stays pretty warm. I love hip-hop music, so I usually have my Beats on, and I listen to Drake in my tutu.… [Also] James Blake, love him; Mariah Carey, since I grew up with her; Amel Larrieux I love. And then old school: I love Anita Baker, Chicago–I grew up with the group since it’s what my mom listened to. [Laughs] So music is something I have to have to get into my body before I go onstage.
But I do have an after-performance ritual, and it’s walking home from the Metropolitan Opera House and decompressing and having some Prosecco. That’s it.”
On her ballet bag must-haves:
“It’s hard for someone who doesn’t know ballet, but Jet Glue. It’s something that we put in our toe shoes to keep them hard; I think it was made for model airplanes. Plus, nuts and legwarmers. “
On her off-stage style:
“I love Nicole Richie. She’s got such a petite frame, and she just knows how to dress it. She’s funky and she’s original, and she’s unique, but it’s always just done in the right way. It just looks so good on her. She’s definitely someone I look to, because we’re similar. And I just love her fashion sense; it’s humorous and elegant. But then I love super-old-school Hollywood; I love Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and, of course, Marilyn. But I love that old Hollywood–the incredible shoulder pads and the structured, almost masculine look.
I love Balmain, like I’m wearing now. I love Lanvin, but then I love DVF. I’m just pretty open to everything: J. Brand, Joie. I love clothes, and I love my shoes. These are my new faves, my Diors; they’re my walking/travel shoes. Everyone’s like, ‘What? Why would you wear those on a plane?’ But they’re so comfortable, and I need to be in a heel.”