Misty Copeland was discovered by a combination of luck, talent and being in the right place at the right moment.
One afternoon while at the Boys and Girls club she was spotted by a dance teacher who noticed her build and pushed Copeland to study ballet at the age of 13. By the age of 18, she was part of the American Ballet Theatre. She's now the first black soloist in 20 years to dance with the company. She's the third black female soloist in the company's history.
Now, the American Ballet Theatre is launching an initiative called Project Plié to attempt to strategically duplicate how to discover the next "Misty Copeland" and invest in her or his training and development.
Described as a "comprehensive initiative to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet and diversify America’s ballet companies." The program is made up of a combination of partnerships within the community and within the industry in addition to scholarships and opportunities for exposure for children of color. There's also an internship component to encourage more diversity on the executive level within professional ballet companies.
"We sincerely believe that diversifying the art form at its training level will strengthen and broaden the pipeline of future artists and help ensure ballet's continued relevance in the 21st century," said Rachel S. Moore, CEO of American Ballet Theatre in a statement posted on the company's website.
The advisory committee includes the likes of Virginia Johnson, the artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Nigel Lythgoe, the executive producer of "So You Think You Can Dance," and Frank Sanchez Vice President, Sports, Entertainment & Alumni Development of the Boys & Girls Club just to name a few.
Annually, starting this Fall, Project Plié will award a series of scholarships annually to young people ranging from ages 9 to 18 including:
- 15 full scholarships to attend the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre Children's and Pre-Professional Divisions
- 15 full scholarships to attend ABT's Summer Intensive Programs, five of which will include housing stipends
- 10 full scholarships to ABT's Young Dancer Summer Workshop in New York City, a two-week program for young dancers, aged 9-12.
Students will be identified through a combination of auditions and nominations.
"The initiative, which also has as its goal to diversify the ranks of arts administrators and ballet teachers, could cost up to $500,000. It will take a long-term commitment to match, said Cookie Ruiz, executive director of Ballet Austin in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "You have to be constantly working on this issue to make it happen."
In addition to the scholarships, Copeland hopes to inspire students by showing them that someone who looks like them was able to make it. Growing up in San Pedro, California she knows what it's like to struggle having been raised by a single mom and at times living out of a motel room with her five siblings.
Since then, Copeland has appeared in one-hour videos introducing Boys and Girls clubs children to the world of ballet, she's starred in a national Diet Dr Pepper commercial and regularly sits down for interviews on TV and in high-profile magazines like Forbes and Essence.
And earlier this week, director Nelson George announced the coming launch of a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about Misty.
"The opportunities I have gotten to go mainstream are so important. That's where these kids are seeing me. They're not seeing me at the Metropolitan Opera House. They're saying there's that one brown girl, I can relate to her," Copeland told the WSJ.