On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Misty Copeland knew she wanted to be a professional dancer at the age of 13. Which, in the field of ballet dancing, is quite late as most ballerinas start serious training at under 10 years old. But Copeland didn’t let that stop her. As soon as she finished her first class at the Boys & Girls Club, she knew she wanted to dance for American Ballet Theatre (ABT).
“I was given an opportunity by my teacher, Cynthia Bradley, with the intent of training to become a professional,” Copeland recalled in an interview with Harvard Business Review. “Her attitude was: ‘You have the potential, and I’m going to invest in you because I think you can make the ballet a career’.”
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Copeland had a tumultuous childhood. As the youngest of four children from her mother’s second marriage, she also had two younger half-siblings, one each from her mother’s third and fourth marriages.
Growing up, Copeland was on the move frequently. Between the ages of three and seven, she lived in Bellflower, California with her mother and her mother’s third husband, Harold Brown, a Santa Fe Railroad sales executive. After the family moved to San Pedro, Copeland attended Point Fermin Elementary School, where she began to develop her passion for dance.
I love performing, and being onstage, but ballet also made me feel that I was a part of something bigger than myself and gave me an outlet and an escape from the circumstances I grew up in. The discipline, the rigor, the sacrifice—those are beautiful things that children in particular should experience, not necessarily to become professionals but to develop as people.Life’s Work: An Interview with Misty Copeland | Harvard Business Review
After linking up with Bradley, Copeland’s immense talent and hard work were evident from an early stage, and she quickly began to rack up awards and accolades for her dance performances. In 1997, she won the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award as the best dancer in Southern California, and by 2000 she had become a member of ABT’s Studio Company.
However, despite rising to stardom as a prodigy, Copeland’s journey to become a ballet icon was anything but easy. “It was extremely difficult,” she revealed to HBR. “My path was of course unique, but it’s common for young athletes and artists to be called prodigies and then have the realities of how they evolve not match expectations.”
But the ABT ballet dancer kept persevering. She became a member of ABT’s corps de ballet in 2001 and was promoted to soloist in 2007, a position she held until mid-2015. In 2014, she performed the lead role of Swanilda in Coppélia at the Met, which according to Los Angeles Times’ Jevon Phillips, was the first time an African-American woman danced in that role. Then on June 30, 2015, she made further history when she became the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history.
It wasn’t until ballet came into my life that I started to feel that I could be a person, a person in the world, like I could express myself. It was like I’d gone 13 years of my life without truly expressing what was inside of me or feeling comfortable in my skin. And it was ballet.‘It chips away at you’: Misty Copeland on the whiteness of ballet | NPR
Misty Copeland’s training routine & diet
These days, in addition to her dance career, Misty Copeland is busy juggling her baby boy, born in 2022; promoting her new memoir The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor, Raven Wilkinson; managing her sports apparel label Greatness Wins, which she co-founded with Derek Jeter, Wayne Gretzky, and Chris Riccobono; and working at her foundation, which aims to bring greater diversity, equity, and inclusion to the dance world.
On a typical morning, the legendary ballet dancer is up at around 6.30-7am to nurse her son. The first thing she does upon waking up is hydrate. “I sleep with water next to my bed,” she said in an interview with Domino. “That’s the first thing I do. I don’t drink coffee or tea or anything, there is no caffeine in my diet, I’ve never been someone that feels like I need it.”
For breakfast, she’ll have something like a muffin or bagel with scallion cream cheese (according to her book Ballerina Body), before doing a light warmup routine in her living. “I’m not working out and sweating, but I have little light weights that I’ll put on my ankles and I’ll do inner thigh exercises and calf raises and things like that,” she explained. “Just getting those small little muscles that once I start my day, it’s so hard to focus on because I do so much other stuff.”
Then for the rest of the day, Copeland will keep her meal relatively light and consistent. “I’m not someone who wakes up and has bacon and eggs and then has a sandwich for lunch,” she said. “I’m constantly on the go, so I like to have things that I know will fuel me but not weigh me down and make me too full.”
A typical lunch for her might consist of a spinach salad topped with pecans, goat cheese, dried cranberries, light vinaigrette, and slices of avocado, while dinner could include grilled salmon, roasted onions, carrots, and butternut squash.
In addition to these meals, the dancer also snacks throughout the day to maintain her energy levels, with nuts being a particular favourite. “Nuts have become my go-to snack,” she explained in her book. “I always carry a baggie or a small container of them in my purse and my locker at ABT’s rehearsal studio because they satisfy my hunger and provide a quick burst of energy.”
While she took a break from performing due to COVID-19 and the birth of her son, Copeland is aiming to get back on stage in 2023. When it comes to her daily routine when she is performing, she’s normally at rehearsals from 10am to around 5.30pm if it’s a performance day.
I’ll eat something really light, maybe a salad or sushi, before the performance. My ritual of getting ready is I put music on and try and center myself and my mind and be really present while I’m putting my makeup on. I get my makeup done a lot, but I just really love the process of doing it myself—just like being alone and getting ready. And then right before I step on the stage, I take a moment to breathe before I go out there. After the performance, I eat a lot.5 Minutes With the Incomparable Misty Copeland | Domino
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