The American Ballet Theatre announced Tuesday that Misty Copeland would become the first African-American principal ballerina in the company's 75-year history.
The company announced the promotions of Copeland and of ballerina Stella Abrera to principal -- the highest rank of dancers, who perform the lead roles -- will be effective Aug. 1. The news release also announced the promotions of several company dancers to soloists and mentioned that two principal dancers from other companies would be joining ABT.
But the focus of the media attention will be the 32-year-old Copeland's historic achievement. That's partly because the New York-based American Ballet Theatre isn't just an ordinary company. Along with the New York City Ballet, it occupies the very top echelon of dance troupes in the U.S.
And it's partly because of her celebrity status; not only is Copeland one of the Baltimore-based Under Armour apparel company's sponsored athletes, she recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
She's expected to elaborate more about those obstacles during her upcoming visit to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. She's scheduled to discuss her life during a public conversation at 1 p.m. on Aug. 1, the same day her promotion goes into effect.
But Copeland's estimate also acknowledged difficult career realities that confront all dancers.
The number of principal dance positions in any company are limited. Generally, a ballet dancer must retire before a vacancy opens up. And at age 32, Copeland is in an art form that places a premium on physical virtuosity.
She first made national headlines while she was still in her teens when she became the subject of a bizarre custody dispute between her mother and her dance coach.
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Later, after becoming just the third African-American soloist in ABT's history, she became a household name on the strength of the music video she made with Prince (whom she denies having dated) as well as the iconic commercial for Under Armour.