Misty Copeland talks new book, ‘Ballerina Body’

Zita Allen | 3/30/2017, midnight
American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland’s latest book “Ballerina Body” has hit bookstores, and her excitement was palpable as ...
Author, trailblazing dancer Misty Copeland has written a children’s book to inspire young girls. Misty Copeland, soloist for the American Ballet Theatre. Photo courtesy Penguin Young Readers Group

American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland’s latest book “Ballerina Body” has hit bookstores, and her excitement was palpable as I interviewed her in the “green room” at the Union Square Barnes & Nobles before the start of an event drawing a capacity crowd—young, old, Black, white and Brown. Nearby are her husband Olu Evans, manager Gilda Squire, the book publisher’s PR Director Linda Duggins and a vivacious model named Damaris Lewis whose been a friend since Prince introduced them a few years ago. Lewis chatted with Copeland before the signing, where she ended up autographing not only books but also Barbie dolls, her “Firebird” book, pointe shoes and photos and in addition to posing for selfies.

This event was the first leg of a book tour crammed into a calendar that includes her April debut in ABT’s production of the major romantic ballet “Giselle.” Then, during the company’s spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, Copeland stars in “Swan Lake,” “Don Quixote,” “Le Corsaire” and the premier of Alexei Ratmansky’s full-length ballet, “Whipped Cream.”

Asked how she’s doing, Copeland smiled and said, “I’m taking class, but I didn’t perform in California because, since my surgery a few years ago, I’m learning I have to manage my physical workload. Kitri in ‘Don Q’ and ‘Giselle’ are some of ballet’s biggest jumping roles. I’ve been rehearsing them every single day for three weeks while also working on ‘Whipped Cream.’” But, in two weeks, after this brief hiatus Copeland said she’ll be ready to tackle her “Giselle” debut in Oman.

Today, it was all about the book and in the morning after her ballet class, she appeared on the “CBS This Morning,” chatting with Oprah’s friend and the show’s co-host, Gayle King, and then she dashed off to the “Dr. Oz Show,” where she made a smoothie with him using one of the recipes from her book. A raspy voice was the only hint of how hectic the day was.

“I think I’m losing my voice,” she said with a broad grin as we dived into the Amsterdam News interview.

“Ballerina Body,” Copeland said, is not about urging women to fit some cookie-cutter mold conjured up by the word “ballerina,” but to “show women everywhere how to reach their body goals and achieve what they see as their best selves.” The format says it all. Divided into four sections, the book focuses first on our mindset, and then describes ballet-based exercises anyone can do, followed by some of her favorite recipes and ending by highlighting the human connections that feed the soul.

“So much of the book’s structure stems from the ballet technique that is such a huge part of my life,” Copeland said. Sure, she’s “gotten a few crazy comments on social media” such as, “You’re a ballerina and you’re writing a book about health? What do you know?” But, she realizes these comments are driven by the impression some have that “ballerinas don’t eat but just put on a tutu, go out onstage and it doesn’t take any energy to twirl around.”

She explained, “People often don’t grasp all that it takes to be a ballerina. They can imagine this about athletes, but often they don’t realize what’s needed for us to handle all the pressures we face. We’re athletes, too. Strength—mental and emotional—is No. 1.”

Reading like a one-on-one chat with the first Black principal ballerina with a major, elite international company, the tone of “Ballerina Body” draws the reader in from Page 1 and shares bits of Copeland’s own life story throughout. “So much of my approach to my life and career stems from my experiences as a child,” Copeland wrote, referring to her chaotic childhood, shyness and, at age13, finding refuge at a Boys & Girls Club in ballet classes “that would become my calling, and my salvation.” She wrote of overcoming a poor body image and reassured readers, “You are fiercely, lovingly, and divinely you.”

In a chapter titled “Ballerina Moves” Copeland laid out a series of accessible safe exercises that can begin before even getting out of bed, as well as exercises done lying on the floor and others often seen in ballet classes.

Next, what’s a book about the ballerina body that doesn’t tackle meals? Copeland recalled trying to “bury my hurt in a box of Krispy Kremes” when adolescence transformed her once lean body into one that could no longer hide her love of fried foods and Red Lobster’s cheddar biscuits. She also recalled reaching for food when it seemed her skin color might be an obstacle to the world of classical ballet she loved so dearly. And she wrote about the strength that came from changing her eating habits and developing nurturing relationships instead, particularly one with “the man I had begun dating and who eventually became my husband.” Eventually, like Evans, Copeland became a pescatarian, making fish her main source of protein. “My energy level skyrocketed and the formula for lean muscles finally came together,” she wrote. Her book sings the praises of omega-3, debunks negative myths about eating fats and provides favorite recipes and thoughtful food plans.

But Copeland said this journey is also about relationships that nurture the soul as she shared what she has called “her mission.” In a chapter titled “Master Class” Copeland wrote about those who have mentored her and those she is mentoring, noting that just as doors were opened for her, she is determined to open doors for others. “I feel everyone can benefit from having that support system in their life,” she added, encouraging others to do the same.

Copeland’s “Ballerina Body” is designed to serve as a road map to your inner and outer fiercest self if, as Copeland asks, readers remember that the journey will be both smooth and difficult, but, “When you become frustrated tap into whatever ritual gives you peace. Clear your mind, focus your energy and once you’re revived, pick up and start again.”