Misty Copeland, the third African American soloist in the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, has affected millions with fame that surpasses the world of toe shoes and pliés — including a video for the athletic wear company Under Armour that has been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube. She was chosen to perform with Prince and is to star in “Swan Lake” this year. All of this accomplished by someone who was told she shouldn’t pursue ballet. So in this season filled with often short-lived resolutions, we chat with Copeland, who knows a thing or two about discipline and perseverance.
What are your tips for showing up consistently for a commitment, like a workout routine, even if you have a zillion seemingly legitimate excuses, like I’m tired, I have too much work to do, or it’s raining outside?
Just the way ballet is so beautifully structured it ingrains this commitment into you. There’s so much happening and so much you’re trying to understand, and something that’s so beautiful about a dance class is that you don’t feel like you’re just doing repetitive movements, but you’re enjoying it and you’re listening to music and it doesn’t seem like work. When you’re really dancing or exercising, the way you feel, your body starts to crave it. The more consistent I am about going, the easier it becomes to go because I need that feeling again.
What tips do you have for emotionally, spiritually and physically thriving even when gatekeepers are telling you no?
I mentor a lot of young dancers, and something I’ve learned from being a mentor and being mentored is that it’s so powerful and important to surround yourself with people who act as your support system. So many of us think, “I can do this on my own. I’m strong. I’ll be fine.” But we’re human beings, and we have those moments of being fearful and having doubts, and that’s the time you need to be surrounded by people who are going to reassure you that you have a purpose and a mission.
Any tips on pushing through negative thoughts about what you look like during physical activity, even if it’s all in your mind, so you can enjoy the experience?
A lot of the time it’s about being in a situation where it may be more about the energy in the room than you not being confident — an environment where the people are there because they want to feel cute or feel like they’re showing up but aren’t really there to be involved in the workout. I would suggest an activity where maybe there aren’t mirrors. Something like taking a Pilates mat class or some type of yoga where you’re getting exercise that’s more about your internal experience and not about looking in a mirror or looking at the people next to you.
Some people, even those who love you, may try to tempt you with excess food or away from your fitness goals. How do you stay on course?
I can’t speak for a lot of people because ballerinas are kind of crazy in their discipline. But when it comes to nutrition, I don’t believe in dieting. There’s always going to be an end to dieting, and then you’re going to end up gaining weight. I think it’s about adjusting your lifestyle forever. For me it’s about portion control and having things in moderation.
Other than ballet, what do you do for fitness?
I do so much. I like to swim, I take floor-barre classes, I do Gyrotonics with a private teacher, I go on the elliptical occasionally without any resistance for 30 minutes if I’m in the off-season and I just want to get my heart rate up. I take Pilates mat classes, I really enjoy that, even though there’s no music involved, it’s this very Zen feeling. I like to close my eyes even though my instructor’s always like, “Open your eyes and focus on something!” because it feels like it’s just me there.