I discovered the wonder that is ballerina Misty Copeland on Pinterest, while scrolling through pretty pictures of pretty people in motion. There she was, standing en pointe, bad as can be, with all this Black girl magic pirouetting all up in her hair and smoky eyes and those curves and muscles rippling strong and graceful through the length of her body. Not five minutes later, I was on a mad hunt to find out everything there was to know about this dancer, this goddess, this miracle.
Misty is a miracle, you know. She started dancing at age 13—long after most ballerinas who plan to dance professionally take to the stage—and went on to become a protege who leapt into first place in a series of prestigious competitions that blazed a trail straight to the American Ballet Theater. There, Misty became the first African American female in decades—and only the third in the company’s history—to earn the position of soloist. Her prowess, beauty and verve isn’t confined to the hallowed halls of the world’s most famous ballet stages, though; indeed, Misty’s mystique traversed cultural barriers so seamlessly that Prince handpicked her to both star in his “Crimson and Clover” video and dance during performances in France. She’s gone on to capture the hearts of a generation that sees her not only as a fierce ballerina, but a pop cultural touchstone.
And now that she’s got us moms all Misty mesmerized, the toast of dance is sprinkling that same Black Girl Magic on the pages of a new children’s picture book meant to give our kids—little boys and girls who hold tight to candy-coated dreams of being ballerinas—the inspiration they need to follow in her footsteps and… soar. “Firebird,” illustrated by the legendary Christopher Meyers, is a fantastic meditation on color and hope and light and desire, with words that uplift and celebrate the fancies of little brown girls who want to take flight. Every word is a gift—just the kind of story we parents wish for our children as we search for images of our children on bookshelves crowded with tales about slavery and civil rights icons. Our children deserve to see themselves in a different kind of light. “Firebird” paints a technicolor rainbow special for brown babies, and any other child who dares to dream.
We here at MyBrownBaby are deeply honored that Misty graciously agreed to tells us a bit about “Firebird,” ballerinas, and the space African Americans inhabit in the arts. She also sent 10 galleys of “Firebird” to give 10 lucky MyBrownBaby readers a preview of the book, plus an autographed finished copy of “Firebird” for one lucky reader. To see how you can win a copy of your own and qualify for the autographed copy of Misty Copeland’s “Firebird,” follow the directions in the Rafflecopter following the ballerina’s Q&A. Good luck!
Misty Copeland and “Firebird”: a Conversation with MyBrownBaby
MyBrownBaby: “The space between you and me is longer than forever and I will show them that forever is not so far away,” a line in “Firebird,” is so lovely. There is so much hope in those words. Tell me the meaning behind them.
Misty Copeland: It’s hard for children to understand and grasp time. I want to give them an idea of what it is to be able to dream. To see yourself in that person you admire. That at one point I was them.
MBB: I think at some point in their young lives, every little girl has the dream of being a ballerina. But the images of ballerinas who look like them haven’t always been readily available. What’s it feel like to know that YOU are the image they can conjure up in their dreams?
MC: I hope that my voice and stance on ballet will bring forth our history in the ballet world. That I can be a start for a positive relatable face, but that they can hear me speak of Raven Wilkinson, Lauren Anderson,Tai Jimenez, Virginia Johnson, Aisha Ash, Alicia Graf Mac, Michaela De Prince, Janet Collins, Anna Benna Sims.
MBB: I love this line: “We’ll make the night sky our starry curtain, the moon our silver spotlight, as we spin across the planets, pirouetting tightly as the curls on our heads.” This is a definitive statement that you are speaking specifically to little brown girls—not just with the beautiful pictures, but with your words. Why was this important for the text of “Firebird”?
MC: To let them know their qualities that are not always seen in ballet, are beautiful. Their skin and tight curls are beautiful.
MBB: You mention African American ballerina Raven Wilkinson in your note at the back of the book and credit her and other amazing women for taking your hand and leading you on your journey into dance and the arts—which of course is a very specific theme coursing throughout “Firebird.” In what ways did that mentorship manifest itself in your journey as a dancer, and why is this a critical tool for little girls with big dreams?
MC: When I realized what mentorship meant, that’s when I truly started to develop as an individual and artist. I understood just how valuable our predecessors and their experiences and guidance were for the youth. That’s how you continue history and legacies. My relationship with Raven is what gave Chris the idea for the direction of Firebird. As well as the relationships I have with my mentees.
MBB: In what ways can we parents expand the idea of beauty and art with our children so that they know Misty Copeland is real—and possible!—and so are artists like illustrator Christopher Meyers and opera singer Jessye Norman and concert pianist Marcus Roberts and so many others that do not get the typical pop cultural shine of mainstream artists?
MC: Through education and experiences. Show your children all forms of art and that they exist in it as well. For them to see themselves reflected through these art forms makes it real and possible.
MBB: What are specific ways parents can get their children involved in the arts, even with limited budgets?
MC: Doing research on outreach programs. Project Plié is that for ballet now. Even if it’s exposing them to you tube footage.
MBB: I have to be honest: as the mother of two African American daughters, I never encouraged ballerina dreams because the images always seemed to be the very antithesis of who my daughters are: Black, thick, kinky haired and strong, with Africa and hip hop and soul running all up and through their veins. Then comes that ridiculously awesome Under Armor commercial, proving me—and so many others—all kinds of wrong. Why should every little Black girl in the history of Black girls watch that commercial, and, of course, read “Firebird”?
MC: Because art is what you create. It’s becoming something other than yourself. Creating something out of nothing. The commercial is proof that with talent, hard work, respect for yourself and the form and communicating your love and passion can result in dreams coming true.
MBB: Tell MyBrownBaby readers 10 fun and random facts about yourself.
1) I’m a complete dork who loves order and structure in all aspects of my life.
2) I love to cook
3) I love vegetables
4) I love hip hop music
5) I’ve eaten enough sunflower seeds in my life to feed a village.
6) I love fashion
7) I’m a home body
8) I have a muffin every morning for breakfast
9) I go through 10 pairs of pointe shoes per week.
10) I love Joan Crawford
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.