First there was the input of Elizabeth Cantine, Copeland’s school drill-team coach, who saw something special in her and encouraged her to attend a free ballet class at the local youth organisation, the Boys & Girls Club, in her native Los Angeles. The class was run by Cantine’s friend, Cynthia Bradley.
Then again there was the moment two years later when Copeland’s mother told her daughter that she would have to give up ballet because the commute was too tough, only for Bradley to step in and invite the youngster to live with her family during the week, thus maintaining her artistic education and protecting a future career that is truly the stuff of dreams.
That Copeland had fortune on her side in the context of the adage “right time, right place” doesn’t do service to what surrounded those vital moments – namely, years of painstaking dedication, devastating commitment and sheer bloody-mindedness.
As a youngster, Copeland overcame a difficult family set-up; she didn’t see her father between the ages of two and 22, and her mother moved around, eventually marrying four times. Her childhood was one where love didn’t necessarily come before the hard realities of making ends meet and where lawyers even became involved as a custody battle raged.
Yet it is a reflection of all these experiences that Copeland has excelled in her craft, despite having not specialised in ballet until her teenage years.
Copeland, now 36, has battled racial prejudice, injury, the temptations of adolescence and the incredible pressures layered on her as both a performer and a person.
She has emerged resilient, calm, enthused and philosophical, channelling all the mental and physical stress into dance routines that are purposeful, graceful and meaningful.
She is now a stage performer, public speaker and good causes philanthropist. She has released two autobiographies, been named one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world and is a go-to name for a variety of brands who need an ambassador who represents trust, determination and sincerity.
She is… Misty Copeland.