Misty Copeland Talks 'Swan Lake' Debut, Children’s Book 'Firebird' and Being the First African-American Soloist for the American Ballet Theatre

By Maria Jean Sullivan on Sep 10, 2014 04:55 PM EDT

Misty Copeland recently sat down with the TODAY show to talk about her Brisbane debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, her children’s book Firebird and her ongoing struggle to fit in as an African-American ballerina.

Last Wednesday night, Copeland shined in her premiere role as Odette/Odile in the American Ballet Theatre's Australian production of Swan Lake--a performance she felt was pivotal in her campaign against being “unfit for ballet.”

"There's just something about that ballet that people just--you envision this very pale Russian extremely tall woman as the swan,” Copeland reminded. ”And typically people don't see African-American women as ballerinas because they don't think that we're soft and feminine and sylph-like. They see us as very powerful and aggressive. And so I want to have the opportunity to prove them wrong."

Copeland’s Brisbane performance is important to her not only for the opportunity to play the acclaimed lead role, but for the audience members. She felt that dancing, and dancing well while away from home, makes it easier to judge how she will be received in the U.S., where all eyes are on her at the moment.

Earlier this year, the first black soloist for ABT released her first children's book, Firebird. The Christopher Myer illustrated book on fragile confidence follows her New York Times best-selling autobiography Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.

Picked up for ballet at age 13, Copeland learned how to dance at a California Boys and Girls Club. At 17, she found a home with the ABT.

"I really enjoyed moving to music, she said on how she first came to ballet. “That was kind of an escape for me just throughout my childhood."

Watch below Copeland's "Ameska" from earlier this summer.

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TagsMisty Copeland, Swan Lake, Firebird, American Ballet Theatre

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