5 Minute Listening: Ballerina looks back at life

  • A celebrated dancer talks about having the confidence to try something new
  • Listen to the interview then answer the questions
Doris Wai |

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Yuk-cheung: We are thrilled to have with us today, Misty Copeland, the first African American principal ballet dancer at the American Ballet Theatre and author of a new children’s picture book titled Bunheads, a story based on Copeland’s own youth and introduction to ballet. Welcome, Misty!

Misty: Hi! It’s my pleasure to be here.

Yuk-cheung: Could you tell us what inspired this new book?

Misty: Of course! The characters are all people I have in my life to this day. I wanted to be able to show a perspective that’s not often depicted in film and television and books, about the camaraderie and relationships that dancers have with each other, even from a young age. That’s been such a big part of my growth as an individual and as a dancer.

Yuk-cheung: Tell us about Miss Cynthia Bradley, the ballet teacher.

Misty: My family was living in a motel and we were really struggling financially. It was really difficult for my mom ... with six children as a single parent, to have me in ballet classes. It got to a point where it was just too much. And Cynthia had no idea I was living in a motel. I told her I would have to quit, and she drove me home and was stunned by the whole situation. She had driven away after dropping me off. She turned back around. She knocked on the door and she asked my mom if I could live with her and train with her, because she had so much belief in my talent and ability to become a professional.

Yuk-cheung: Right, and who’s the character of “Cat” based upon?

Misty: She was my best friend. Her name is Catalina. She’s a young Mexican-American, aspiring ballerina. I was such an introverted child. And I started ballet so late, at 13. I remember the first time I walked into the ballet studio at Miss Bradley’s, Catalina was the first person to come to me and kind of break that ice.

Yuk-cheung: In Bunheads, the story of young Misty’s first ballet class and first dance production, the celebrated ballerina not only pays tribute to key figures in her youth, but explores themes of camaraderie among dancers, the need for a support system, and the importance of having the confidence to try something new. What are some of the themes you want to get across to young people?

Misty: Acknowledging and being okay with the fact that if you don’t have the confidence to believe in yourself on your own, that it’s something that you can gain ... from having a support system around you. It’s been difficult for me throughout my life. And I know it’s difficult for a lot of young people to accept and understand that you can’t do everything on your own, and you’re going to have days when you’re not strong.

Yuk-cheung: Definitely. Last but not least, I’m sure this is one question all readers are wondering: What exactly are “bunheads”?

Misty: It’s a term of endearment. When you see those little girls, you can spot them from a mile away, they have buns on their head. They’re wearing their jean shorts over their tights, they’ve got to make it to class on time and don’t have time to change. Those are the bunheads.

Yuk-cheung: Cool! Alright, we’ve come to the end of this interview. Thanks for your time, Misty.

Misty: You’re welcome!


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