LOS ANGELES – For thousands of young African Americans who live to dance, the American Ballet Theater’s promotion of black ballerina Misty Copeland to principal dancer last week was confirmation that they, too, can achieve their dreams.
Just ask Elicia Clayton, a 17-year-old visiting dancer at the prestigious Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) in Baldwin Hills.
“For me, it’s not all about color,” said Clayton, one of 181 dancers from across the country accepted into DADA’s highly competitive Summer Intensive, a four-week dance program for students ages eight to 25.
“I know that it’s an accomplishment that Misty Copeland is African American, but I feel as though that’s just a bonus for her,” the Georgia resident said. “I feel as though the opportunities and doors are open for everyone – all different kinds of people – no matter what race. What you put into it is what you get out of it.”
Copeland’s landmark achievement also inspired program participant Anesia Sandifer, a 24-year-old dancer “from New Jersey by way of Georgia.”
“I guess it’s more reassuring that you can do what you already set out to do, just knowing that people have done it in the past,” Sandifer said. “If they can do it, you know that you can, if you just continue to apply yourself and be disciplined the way that you should be, it will definitely happen.”
Copeland, a Kansas City native who was raised in San Pedro, is the first African-American woman to be named a principal dancer in the 75-year history of the esteemed New York-based ballet theater.
Her unprecedented achievement has international implications that exceed the worlds of art, culture and dance, said Debbie Allen, DADA’s founder and artistic director.
“Misty’s accomplishment resonates far and wide beyond the world of ballet. It resonates into the global conversation of freedom, human rights, creativity and artistry,” Allen said. “It’s an amazing event.”
Lula Washington, founder and artistic director of the Lula Washington Dance Theater in South Los Angeles, said Copeland’s achievement signifies “a new day in the classical ballet field.”
“It shows African American girls that they can someday become a principal dancer through hard work, determination and perseverance,” Washington said last week.
Georgia resident Trevor Moore, who traveled from Atlanta with his 11-year old daughter Carson to participate in DADA’s Summer Intensive program, agreed.
“It’s incredible,” said Moore, who coaches sports teams in Georgia. “Now my daughter has someone to aspire to [to reach] those same levels of professionalism.”
DADA’s executive liaison Trella Walker said as laudable as Copeland’s achievement is, its impact on young people remains to be seen.
“It’s really early to tell, but no matter what happens, it gives kids hope,” she said. “The fact that Misty doesn’t have a traditional body shape for a ballerina, the fact that she’s African American, all of that, it’s going to give kids hope to say, ‘I can do that one day.’ ”
Contributing Writer Quinten Howard contributed to this report.