When people meet me in person, they're usually surprised at how petite I am because there's this idea that because I'm black, I just look a certain way.

Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland

Profession: Dancer
Nationality: American

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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.

Perseverance has always just been something that was in me. And it was a tool that came in very handy as a ballerina.

When I was 16, I moved to Torrance, California to train at a more advanced studio, and by 19, I joined the American Ballet Theatre in New York. It all happened so fast - it was pretty unheard of that someone could train for so few years and become a professional at one of the most elite dance companies in the United States.

I know that I'm talented, and I know that I'm not in American Ballet Theater because I'm black - I'm here because I'm a gifted dancer.

I have the opportunity, which most people don't experience nearly as much, of being in front of a mirror up to 10 hours a day. Staring at your body, you really get to know every little detail of how to make yourself look your best.

It's a European art form, and you're used to seeing a certain type of person as a ballerina. And I don't look like a lot of the girls around me.

I had always been proud of my body - its strength and grace enabled me to pursue my passions.

'The Firebird' just symbolizes a lot for me and my career. It was one of the first really big principal roles that I was ever given an opportunity to dance with American Ballet Theatre, and it was a huge step for the African-American community, I think, within the classical ballet world.

Depending on the level you're at in your company, the higher you go up in rank, usually the longer you can dance.

I wanted to open the dialogue about race in ballet and bring more people in. It's just beautiful to see the interest that has exploded for such an incredible art form that I will forever be grateful to!

More often than we realize, people see in us what we don't see in ourselves.

I think most people think of ballerinas as kind of either as a fairytale, far-away thing that's really not attainable, something they can't grasp, or they think of them as European or Russian and kind of their nose up in the air. So, it's cool for me to, like, sit with them and for them to really see themselves as me.

That something that I fought so hard for throughout the beginning of my career is I didn't want to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the... ballet. I wanted to be myself. I didn't want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner.

I've always approached my career and my life, you know, one day at a time, as if this was the last day that I'm going, because you never know as an athlete and as a dancer. You never know what can happen today, tomorrow.