The dance superstar Misty Copeland has often spoken about the impact of enrolling in a free ballet class when she was 13, on the basketball court of a Boys and Girls Club in San Pedro, Calif., where she grew up. The class set in motion Copeland’s remarkable career, which included in 2015 becoming the first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theater.
Now Copeland, 40, would like to provide similar experiences to a new generation of dancers, especially Black and Latino students, who are underrepresented in ballet. She announced on Thursday that she was starting a free, 12-week program for children 8 to 10 years old, beginning this month with about 120 students at two Boys and Girls Clubs in New York City.
Copeland described the initiative, known as Be Bold, as “a culmination of my life’s work.” She said she had been inspired to create the program partly because of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against racial injustice in the United States.
“It’s so important for me to give back to the community, as well as to show people that ballet should be and can be inclusive,” she said in an interview. “It’s giving opportunities to people that don’t feel that they are included in this elite art form, and offering a new approach to what ballet can look like.”
The program, which provides training in ballet, music and health, will be led by teaching artists selected by Copeland and employees of her foundation, which she created last year. The teaching artists are being trained by the National Dance Institute, a nonprofit arts organization. The program will also draw on staff at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club and the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club in New York. The goal is to train several hundred students in its first year, and thousands in the coming years.
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Copeland, eager to upend the traditional top-down dynamic in ballet classes, said she and the program’s advisers had designed a curriculum centered on the idea of giving more freedom and flexibility to students.
“It’s giving more agency, it’s giving more voice to the students, which I think is kind of the opposite of what ballet typically is,” she said. “I really want to hold onto the beautiful aspects of ballet — the discipline, the creativeness — and get rid of those old, stereotypical things that don’t make for a good experience, especially for Black and Brown children.”
The Ford Foundation and the Goldman Sachs Foundation are lead donors to the program.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said in a statement: “Misty Copeland has rightfully earned iconic status in the dance world because of her talent, tenacity and courage to break down barriers in an environment that has long been unwelcoming to Black women.”
The Be Bold program, he added, will “provide children of all backgrounds with the foundation and opportunity to help pave broader paths to succeed in dance and in life.”
Copeland has been on a hiatus from performing since December 2019, before the pandemic. She gave birth to her first child, a son, this year.
In November, she will publish her second memoir, “The Wind at My Back,” about her mentor, Raven Wilkinson, one of the first Black dancers to perform with a major ballet company.
Copeland, who said she would soon begin training for a return to the stage next year, was changed by the pandemic and the experience of giving birth.
“Everything feels and looks differently to me,” she said.
“I’m excited to get back onstage with so much change that’s happening in the ballet community,” she added. “I feel so hopeful for the future of ballet.”