The lights dimmed and the orchestra began the overture. The Chrysler Center in downtown Norfolk was packed as the American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Giselle put on a gripping show of a timeless ballet favorite. Misty Copeland emerged from the wings as one of the villagers and I sat abruptly in awe.
I have always been inspired by her story. She started dancing at a late age of 13 and gave hope to all the “late starters” of dance that no obstacle can be too tough to overcome. A few years later I had an opportunity to perform for her with my dance group (Urbanknowlogy 101) for a Virginia Girl’s Summit conference. Copeland was standing a few feet away from me, watching me do something that she inspired me to do in the first place. She then took the stage and shared her story of how she overcame discrimination throughout her ballet career and worked her hardest to get to where she was today.
Copeland made history as the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. She has broken boundaries, becoming the changing face of ballet, and inspiring young dancers of all ethnicities that a ballerina is something they can be.
In its 75th year, the American Ballet Theatre has made history with not only the promotion of Copeland, but with Stella Abrera as well. Abrera has been a dancer at ABT since 1996 and promoted to soloist in 2001. She made history this year as the first Filipino-American principal ballerina at ABT. In the Philippines, ballet is seen as an elitist art that may not be for everyone. Companies in the Philippines such as Ballet Manila or the Philippine Ballet Theatre are working to bring ballet into the Philippine culture and foster an appreciation for the art form. To have a role model like Abrera for other Filipino and Filipino-Americans to look up to is a celebration for ballet itself and the Filipino community.
Arbrera’s accomplishments and recognition as a dancer have not let her forget her roots, as she strives to continue to give aid and support from her family’s hometown of Guiuan, Philippines. Abrera has started a charity called Steps Forward for the Philippines which provides educational and creative needs to the children of the Philippines. The charity gives tools and services to help and encourage the children for success.
Years ago, when people would think of what the typical, classical ballerina looks like, they would usually not picture women like Misty Copeland or Stella Abrera. How the world of ballet has evolved and become more accepting of different body types can only encourage more dancers to not be afraid of pursuing their dreams. The historic promotions of these two ballerinas will spark inspiration for future generations to come.