“Dancers have to keep studying, practicing, and striving until the day they retire.”
Misty Copeland, Life in Motion
What a delight! To my right, a teenage girl clutching a shiny new book and to my left, an adorable little bundle of energy sitting on her father’s lap dressed in a pink tutu and tights! The setting: a school auditorium packed with hundreds of people, most of them kids. The event: A festive, relaxed discussion starring the graceful and gorgeous Misty Copeland, the only African American soloist dancing with the world-famous American Ballet Theatre. The occasion: A celebratory book signing of Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, the memoir that Misty wrote with Charisse Jones.
The discussion and signing, months in the planning, were orchestrated by the ever-resourceful Margot Sage-EL, owner of Watchung Booksellers, a beloved indie bookstore in my hometown of Montclair, and Sharon Miller, a former professional dancer and studio founder — with the help of Misty’s publisher, Simon & Schuster. It’s the kind of inspiring, memorable event that may well turn some twinkle-toed little girls and boys into dancers. It’s also proof positive that an innovative independent bookstore can attract major star power. How encouraging and uplifting!
But most of all, the evening was about Misty, who began training at age 13 and defied the odds to dance her way into history. A few of her lessons learned we can all benefit from:
Be true to your passion: “If you’re not 100% in love with it, it’s not worth it.”
Enjoy the process: Just as we focus on honing our craft and revising, a professional dancer spends 90% of her time rehearsing and only 10% in the limelight.
Be a genre jumper: Misty has performed modern dance with Martha Graham’s company and made a music video with Prince. In her view, exploring beyond the genre you’re part of “makes you better at what you do.”
Go all out: When the opportunity arose to dance the Firebird, Misty “dove into it with everything I had in me.”
Take time to reflect: Misty found working on her memoir therapeutic and rewarding; it helped her appreciate how much work she’d put into her career and to see that she’d created a different path to in her field that others could follow.
Share your success by giving back: Misty has teamed up with the American Ballet Theatre and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to launch “Project Plie'” and bring professional dance training to under-served communities.
What an inspiring evening! Bravo, Misty, Margot, Charisse, and Sharon! There’s so much we can learn from other creative disciplines as we write on.