Misty Copeland, the Missouri-born dancer who has become a forceful voice for diversity in ballet and a rare celebrity in that field, was named principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre today— the first African-American ballerina to achieve that status in the company's 75-year history. The company announced the promotion six days after Copeland made her New York debut in the role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, one of the most important roles in a ballerina's repertoire. The emotional performance ended with Copeland being greeted onstage by trailblazing black ballerinas of earlier generations. Copeland, 32, has become increasingly famous over the past several years, achieving a pop culture status that's extremely rare for a ballet dancer.
"We haven't had a ballet dancer who has broken through to popular culture like this since Mikhail Baryshnikov," says Wendy Perron, an author and the former editor of Dance Magazine. "And she's going to bring more attention from that world to ballet. We've waited a long time for this." Copeland appeared on the cover of Time as one of the most influential figures of 2015, and wrote a both a children's book and a best-selling memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. She also was the subject of a documentary at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, has performed in a music video with Prince, and was featured in a hugely popular online ad for Under Armour sportswear. (Read more uplifting news stories.)