Misty Copeland’s ballet career didn’t start out the traditional route. Copeland was discovered way beyond the “normal” ballet priming time. At the age of 13, while at her local Boys & Girls Club, a dance teacher spotted her and pushed her to study. By the age of 18, she was dancing with the American Ballet Theater (ABT). Although Copeland hasn’t made principal dancer, she’s the ABT’s first black soloist in 20 years and only third black female soloist in the company’s history.

In an effort to find more black ballerinas, Copeland has partnered with the ABT on their initiative called Project Plié.

Project Plié plans to make partnerships with regional ballet companies and Boys and Girls Clubs of America—where she was discovered—ABT also plans to offer scholarships to promising dancers of color, in hopes of creating a pipeline of performers from underrepresented groups. It hopes that a more racially diverse cast of performers also leads to a broader audience.

“We have an access problem in a big way,” said Rachel Moore, ABT’s chief executive. “The demographics of this country are radically changing. We’re not going to be relevant in 50 years if we don’t look like America. We sincerely believe that diversifying the art form at its training level will strengthen and broaden the pipeline of future artists and help ensure ballet’s continued relevance in the 21st century”

Project Plié’s advisory committee includes Virginia Johnson, the artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Nigel Lythgoe, the executive producer of “So You Think You Can Dance,” and Frank Sanchez President and CEO of Boys & Girls Club of America.

Project Plié’s scholarship program is for students between the ages 9-18:

  • 15 full scholarships to attend the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre Children’s and Pre-Professional Divisions
  • 15 full scholarships to attend ABT’s Summer Intensive Programs, five of which will include housing stipends
  • 10 full scholarships to ABT’s Young Dancer Summer Workshop in New York City, a two-week program for young dancers, aged 9-12.

Project Plié scholarship recipients will be eligible to receive comprehensive training in classical dance, financial assistance for uniforms, shoes and travel, and access to academic tutoring, health assessments, career guidance and mentoring from ABT’s dancers and teaching staff.

For more information about Project Plié scholarships, please contact Richard Toda [email protected]

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  • KG

    Tumblr is your friend! Just google “black ballet tumblr” and there is a tumblr devoted to this that is updated regularly. An no, most of those women do not have the typical ballerina shape. IT IS AWESOME!!!

  • OK, I’m glad that this is finally happening. But it makes my heart hurt to remember how I was treated, as a 10-year-old ballet student about to transition to pointe, when my (white) ballet instructor informed me that “since there’s no way that anyone is going to make you part of a professional company, there’s no point in you bothering to train past this stage.” She literally did NOT allow me to register.

    Unfortunately, I grew up in a small town (in the so-called “liberal, forward-thinking” state of CA), and her dance school was the only game in town. If *she* wouldn’t teach me….I wasn’t going to dance. Period.

    Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m a grown black woman who still dreams en pointe. But that chance didn’t show up for me. Maybe it will for someone else.

    It just makes me angry that I, and a whole LOT of other girls, never got a shot. Anyway, good luck to Misty. It’s about damn time.

    • JN

      Aw man. The sad thing is, I can’t think of whether she was horrible for doing that, or if she was doing you a favor in the long run.

    • I don’t know, either – and I think that’s the point. My ability to pursue an option and figure out whether or not I *COULD* have made it was basically short-circuited by one woman’s choice.

      I might never have made it to the ABT or the Joffrey – but I think (?) that if I’d been allowed to continue training, had auditioned to join a professional company, and then not made the cut, I could have put the entire concept to bed in my mind.

      Yes, it would have hurt like hell to be rejected on the verge of going pro. I would have mourned the loss, the same way that I did at age 10. But at least I wouldn’t have been left wondering “what if I HAD been able to try?”.

    • WOW, that is sad : ( that teacher sounded like a real discriminative b*tch. I don’t have the same experience as you but I always wanted to do ballet but my family couldn’t afford the classes because it was expensive so I am glad that Misty is not only giving these girls an opportunity but helping with affordability as well with the scholarships. Even though I know I can’t make a career out f it I would still love to learn but finding serious adult ballet classes that focus on the dance and technique and not grouped with aerobics is hard.