On a hot, muggy summer day earlier this month, there were two lines stretching from the doors of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House to its iconic fountain. The Met wasn’t giving out free ice cream and Cardi B had canceled all of her performances until September, so what could have caused such a mammoth queue?
We’d like to think it’s the Misty effect. As in, the effect that Misty Copeland—the first black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater—has had on the world of ballet and beyond. But working with ABT was a conscious decision on Copeland’s part.
“It was a huge challenge for me to decide—do I push through with the all-white company or do I join an all-black company like Dance Theatre of Harlem,” Copeland told The Root. But the 35-year-old thought that she could serve a greater role in the world of ballet if she broke barriers.
“I think that in order to kind of push the boundaries and to create growth in the ballet world is to take chances, and I felt like the American Ballet Theatre was the place for me to be able to take that chance and to be able to promote diversity and that’s something that means as much to me as being a classical dancer,” said Copeland.
On that muggy evening, the American Ballet Theater’s summer 2018 season was in full swing and “Whipped Cream” was on the Playbill. Among the evening’s cast—you’ve guessed it—America’s favorite ballerina, Misty Copeland. OK, OK—it might be a bit presumptuous to say that Misty is America’s favorite ballerina, but here at The Root, she’s certainly our fave.
The centuries-old space was bustling. And to my delight, there were a good amount of black folks in attendance: Little black girls in their puffy tulle skirts. Black families. Black couples. Black mothers with their daughters. Black sister-girlfriends. Bougie black folks. Black grandmothers. It was a beautiful sight to see. The Metropolitan Opera house seats 3,800—we were probably one or two hundred, but I didn’t feel alone. Black people were represented on- and off-stage.
For nearly two hours, I followed along with “Whipped Cream.” It is a whimsical ballet of a boy (played by Jeffrey Cirio), who, after his first communion, ate too many sweets and was taken to the hospital, only to face an evil doctor (and nurses). In this fictional world, there were dancing Sugar Plums, Gingerbread Men and even a Worm Candy Man. The young man was saved by the enchanting Princess Praline (played by Copeland)—because black women stay saving folks. When Copeland entered the stage (smiling and waving in a fanciful procession)—the crowd roared before she could do a single pirouette.
“Whipped Cream” was lovely, but I was there for Misty—and based on the round of applause when the principal ballerina took the stage, I’m guessing that most people were there for Misty, too.
“Representation is so important. And it’s as simple as a child able to look on the stage and see themselves represented and to see that it’s possible for them,” said Copeland.
After the show, I saw a little brown girl in white stockings and white patent-leather shoes twirl. After all, seeing Misty on stage meant that one day, she (or any of the little girls there that evening) could take the very same stage. Black ballerinas matter. And when Misty was on stage, it felt like we mattered, too.