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Arts & Culture

INDEPENDENT LENS: A Ballerina's Tale

Misty Copeland
Courtesy of Urban Romances, Inc.
Misty Copeland

Airs Monday, Dec. 24, 2018 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Few dancers make it to the highest levels of classical ballet; of that already small number only a fraction are black women. But Misty Copeland has risen to the highest level, making history as the first African American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.

Get an intimate look at this groundbreaking artist during a crucial period in her life in “A Ballerina’s Tale,” directed by Nelson George.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in San Pedro, California, Misty Copeland did not begin studying ballet until the late age of 13.


In 2000 she joined American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and the following year became a member of ABT’s Corps de Ballet. She continued to rise within the company, becoming a soloist in August 2007.

In 2013, she was offered the lead role in Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird" to be performed at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, a major coup for a soloist.

The night of her performance Misty dances beautifully, but at the celebration afterwards she reveals she has been performing in great pain. She later finds out that her left shin has six fractures and will need corrective surgery. Many doubt she will ever dance again.

The film follows Misty's journey, from the triumph of "Firebird" to the painful road back to dancing, her return to the American Ballet Theatre stage, and her emergence as a pop culture star in the process.

Interviews with a group of successful women who served as mentors for Copeland provide additional insight.


Misty Copeland's career shines a light on the absence of women of color at major ballet companies, and how classical ballet’s emphasis on skinny bodies for ballerinas impacts the health of professional dancers and sends a negative message to young fans around the world.

Misty, because of her race and her curves, is central to both issues in the classical dance world.

The film climaxes with a landmark performance by Misty in "Swan Lake," an acknowledgement by American Ballet Theatre that she is back, dancing at the highest level, and the fulfillment of the dream of many to see a true black swan at a mainstream international company.

“A Ballerina’s Tale” is the story of how great talent, a powerful will, and the support of a network of mentors can open doors within a very cloistered world.

This film is no longer available to stream on demand.


INDEPENDENT LENS is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter. #IndieLensPBS

Misty Copeland is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @mistyonpointe on Twitter. "A Ballerina's Tale" is on Facebook, and you can follow @ABallerinasTale on Twitter.