Several cracks in the foundation of America have been uncovered during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as issues within the country’s healthcare and class systems. Especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, racial inequality has become a huge topic across several fields and industries, such as the journalism/online media and the improv comedy spaces.
Misty Copeland, the first African American woman to be selected as Principal Dancer for the prestigious American Ballet Theater, spoke to Yahoo! Finance about how the ongoing racial justice protests are unlike anything she’s ever witnessed in her career. She also believes that work has just begun in terms of how to combat racism in the dance world.
“It’s the first time in my position that I feel like I’m truly being heard,” she explains of how she’s using her voice to raise awareness, later adding, “This has been my life’s work as a dancer: speaking about racism in the world, and in ballet, speaking about the lack of diversity. And to have my company, to have the ballet world listening, and to have different panels to speak about this—in a way that I have before, but again, for the first time, people are really seeing it. And I think that’s what’s different about this time, is that I feel like we have true allies and people from other communities and races that we’ve not had before.”
Copeland has been vocal about the racism that Black ballerinas have faced. She spoke with former President Barack Obama for TIME in 2016, about how she fought to ensure she wasn’t treated differently when she was on the come up. She wanted to let her talent speak for itself. (“I didn’t [want to] pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the court of ballet, I didn’t want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner,” she said.)
She also discussed COVID-19’s impact on the dance world, which she implies will never be the same due to some of the realizations made during the quarantine. The art form, she says, is best experienced on stage, and rehearsals are necessary for connection to the pieces and partners.
“To be yanked out of [performing]...I think is a bit shocking emotionally, psychologically,” she says. “I think in the long run, the dance world is going to learn from this because we’ve never really been pushed to have a virtual presence. This is an opportunity for us to step back and take a look at all of these things that are very old and very traditional, that we need to kind of reassess and revamp.”
In May, Copeland launched a virtual dance performance titled Swans for Relief, which featured 32 ballerinas representing 14 countries and 22 companies performing the variation The Dying Swan, Le Cyne (The Swan) from Swan Lake. According to Yahoo! Finance, the event raised nearly $300,000 for professional dancers to maintain living expenses as performances halted due to the pandemic.