Don't hold on to the barre like, 'I might die.' It's just ballet.

Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland

Profession: Dancer
Nationality: American

Some suggestions for you :

Most ballerinas take their first ballet class when they are 5 or 6 years old. I was 13 when I took mine on the basketball court of the San Pedro Boys & Girls Club in California.

I grew up poor in San Pedro, California, sleeping on the floor of shady motels with my five siblings and not always sure when or where I'd get my next meal.

I say over and over again that I am just standing on the shoulders of so many who have set this path for me, and they may not be seen or recognized or have been given an opportunity to have a voice, but I'm here representing all of those dancers. Dance Theatre of Harlem Virginia Johnson, Tai Jimenez, Lauren Anderson.

A young girl reached out to me to be her mentor one day, which I didn't really know anything about. What I did remember was what it was to be alone as an African-American dancer in the ballet world and wanting to connect with someone who looks like me.

Growing up, I was surrounded by R&B and Hip-Hop, and the closest thing I could find to dance was gymnastics which I watched on TV. So, I just used those avenues I found available right in my milieu to express what was inside of me.

Ballet was so structured. I'd been craving something that could guide me.

Being the only African American at this level in American Ballet Theater, I feel like people are looking at me, and it's my responsibility for me to do whatever I can to provide these opportunities in communities to be able to educate them.

Whenever there was chaos in my house, whether it was arguing, being in a cramped space with all of us kids and screaming, I found an empty space where I could just put music on and move.

I think American Ballet Theatre is setting that standard now for classical ballet, that you can dream big, and it doesn't matter what you look like, where you come from, what your background is.

In the ballet studio, it was such an organized and disciplined environment, like I'd never had in my life. Seeing myself in the mirror, surrounded by the classical music, that's when I started to fall in love with dance.

I would have young dancers come to me and ask me questions and want to know what my experiences were like: 'What's it like being a black dancer?' So I just felt like it was necessary for me to share my experiences with them.

I think that having a platform and having a voice to be seen by people beyond the classical ballet world has really been my power, I feel.

Barack Obama being President of the United States doesn't mean racism has disappeared. It's all a process, and we have to be aware that the work never ends.

When I was a little girl, I was incredibly shy. My hope was to blend in, to fit in, to not be noticed in any significant way. I was deeply insecure and unsure of myself.