Monday, February 15, 2016

Black History Month in a Picture Book: Firebird by Misty Copeland

A young ballerina shows promise.
The odds were stacked against her. She lived in a motel room with five other siblings. She started ballet at the age of 13, when others her age had been training for ten years. Not only that, but she was African American, trying to make a spot for herself in the world of classically trained ballet, where small, lithe body types were favored over muscular ones. Misty Copeland was a ballet prodigy, and after three months of lessons she was dancing en pointe, and in a little over a year was dancing professionally, unheard of in the field of ballet.

In 2000, at the age of 18, she moved to New York where she earned a spot in the American Ballet Theater’s Studio Company, followed shortly by becoming a member of the corps de ballet in 2001, and in 2007, she became ABT’s second African American female soloist and the first in two decades. Misty Copeland became the first black female to perform Stravinsky’s Firebird. This inspired her children’s picture book, Firebird, illustrated in bright and bold colors by Christopher Myers, in sweeping motions that mimic the movements of dance. 

In this picture book, she is encouraging a young African American dancer to pursue her ballet dreams, telling her, “I was a dancer just like you/ a dreaming shooting star of girl with work and worlds ahead.” The book is perfect for all young ballerinas who may be afraid to follow their dreams because of their body type, their skin color, their economical background, or for those who have low self-esteem. A particularly powerful line in her book is “even birds must learn to fly/like me, you’ll grow steady in grace/ spread an arabesque of wings/ and climb”. Firebird won the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and received the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor.

"darling child don't you know
you're just where I started
let the sun shine on your face
your beginning's just begun"

When Misty dances, she is powerful, graceful, perfectly focused, strong, and beautiful. Every time she dances it is with with everything in her being, body and soul.
And so in June 2015, shortly after performing the role of “Odette/Odile”, a historic first for an African American ballerina to perform those dual roles in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, she was named ABT’s Principal Ballerina. This was the first time in the 75-years of the company that a black female was chosen for this honored position. As we are in the middle of Black History month, Misty Copeland is changing the way we see ballet. Read Firebird to your budding ballerina so that they have the courage to be a ballerina like Misty: graceful, strong, and fearless.

"the space between you and me is longer than forever
and I will show them that forever is not so far away"
Misty Copeland dances in Stravinsky's Firebird.
Making history in Swan Lake.

To read more about Misty's journey and to see more images, visit her website!

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