Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina is an autobiography by Misty Copeland. It's definitely outside of my usual genre; generally, I dislike nonfiction, or anything that doesn’t have significant fantasy elements and/or insane plot twists- but I actually ended up reading this one at a pretty fast pace.
Copeland is a ballerina, not a writer, so her story reads like one. The prose could be described as loose, not elegant, exactly, the way pointe shoes are flitting across the stage- but it compensates with voice. Copeland is able to recreate her experiences so vividly because she was the one that went through them, and that was why I finished this.
Tonight, I will become the first black woman to star in Igor Stravinsky’s iconic role for American Ballet Theatre, one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world.
As the Firebird.
This is for the little brown girls.
I make jokes about death on a regular basis, so tales with life inspiration are very much appreciated… after reading this, one kind of walks away feeling like they can do anything. But this is a (school) book blog, so I need to discuss themes.
More specifically, the two themes which work together to carry this book out. Another nice quirk about autobiographies: the themes that make up the book also make up the person’s life. Misty Copeland is a ballerina who doesn’t look the way a ballerina is supposed to look (black, curvy), and yet, she manages to become one of the best ballerinas in the world anyway. So what made it possible?
There’s a lot of possible answers, but because it’s the requirements, I’ll list off two: ambition and courage.
It's important to set a high bar (or, a high barre) for herself. Copeland fell in love with dance, with ballet, with spotlights and shadowy audiences. Her entire life is built on the wish of ascending the stage.
Essentially, it's critical to have dreams and to hold onto them. If Copeland didn't have such a clear direction, she wouldn’t have worked so hard to get where she was. This works really well from a literature standpoint, too, because then the reader dreams with her… and longs with her… one keeps flipping the pages to see if she’s going to end up reaching her goals, even though the answer is pretty apparent.
But dreams are just dreams without action, and Copeland took. A lot. Of action. Racism still pervades many aspects of daily life, and her blurb points it out in the very first sentence… "Picture a ballerina in a tutu and toe shoes. What does she look like?" And the answer, of course, is a pale-skinned and slender girl dancing across the stage…
Copeland is black and definitely didn’t have the best circumstances for becoming a world class ballerina. She stumbled into the path on accident and stayed on it, at first, out of sheer talent. She adapted skills twice as fast as everyone else and was on pointe shoes in an incredibly short time.
But there’s a threshold between a hobby and a job, and talent starts to matter less and less when you cross that threshold. Because everyone’s talented, and outside, often uncontrollable, circumstances mean the difference between making it or breaking it.
And courage was essential to fighting against outside circumstances. Copeland spent several chapters fighting against her home life, society, her own body… at many times, she was tempted to quit. But she didn’t, which is why she’s standing up on the stage now.
This book isn’t just for people who do ballet. (Which is good, because that’s an incredibly niche market and a lot of people wouldn’t end up reading it.) But it’s a good read for anyone with a passion or a particular talent, and this book says, if you want it, fight for it.
The question is: do you think you’d be able to pull it off?