What’s been the highlight of these past few years?
The promotion. But also all the hard work that went into getting to that point.
Beyond proving to Kevin McKenzie, it was about proving to myself that I’m
capable of being a Swan Queen and being the Firebird and being Juliet.
Did you doubt that you could do it?
Absolutely. As a corps de ballet member doing Swan Lake, I never saw
myself as the Swan Queen. Maybe that’s just a subconscious thing, not
seeing many dancers who look like me doing those roles. You just think,
Well, that’s just not my path.
What does it feel like knowing you’ve spurred today’s conversations about
diversity in ballet?
It’s amazing. And as much negative feedback as I get from that and criticism,
none of it matters. If I’m reaching 50 girls that feel like they have a possibility,
if people are talking about diversity, that means the world to me. That is so
much of my purpose. I think I’m a fine dancer, and I worked my butt off to get
here. But what I stand for is so much more than just being a good dancer.
How do you deal with those dance bloggers and critics who post such
vehement (and sometimes racist) criticism about you?
It’s really difficult for me not to read it. I’ve had to learn that I can’t let
those things affect me. I can’t control how people feel about a subjective art
form. Whether the comments are racist or it’s just their opinion, you have to
brush it off. As hard as that may be, it’s the only way to not let it get in your
head and take away from your ability to perform. All I can do is keep working
on myself. And I can take away some of the things I see in those reviews—if
it’s something I agree with—and say, “Let me work on that.”
Now that you’ve made principal, what are your goals?
It’s weird, my entire career has been striving for this moment, so to have reached
this goal, it’s this strange feeling. It’s almost harder now. It’s a different battle,
more internal. I just want to be better. I want to give an amazing performance
every time I’m onstage. And to continue the diversity conversation.
Would you change anything about your career?
I really wouldn’t. You know, even all of the injuries I’ve had, I cannot imagine
having developed into this dancer without those experiences. That feeling
that I have to be onstage again, I have to get better so that I can be better
than I was when I left. Even the 15 years it took before I was promoted to
principal dancer—I wouldn’t change that. I feel like I’m just now reaching
that peak where I’m ready. ■
stand for is
just being a
Copeland says she
she’d dance Odette.
One of Copeland’s