Misty Copeland shares her insights on health, blazing new trails and the definition of an athlete.
Dedicated. Spend a few minutes with Misty Copeland and that’s what she imprints upon you. Not only does this 34-year-old ballerina captivate audiences on stage, but she has redefined what it means to be a ballerina out of the spotlight as well. She is now using he fame to educate others on the athleticism that professional dance requires and how to emulate the healthy lifestyle that her career demands.
In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first female African-American principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre — one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world. It was quite the accomplishment for a woman who did not begin dancing until she was 13.
“When I discovered ballet, I knew immediately that this was the first thing I ever felt an attachment to and passionate about, and I felt that it was mine,” Copeland says.
Within a year of starting dance, she was performing professionally. Since that time, her devotion has been unwavering — spending at least 7 hours a day on maintaining her high fitness level during performance season.
Ask Copeland about her normal day, and like most professional athletes, it is centered on fitness. She is a walking representation of what devotion to yourself and your craft looks like. Whether she is in season or on a break, she never goes a day without exercise.
“I’m not sure that every athlete experiences this,” says Copeland. “I think it’s healthy to have down days and allow your body to recover, but as a dancer, having such a short career, it’s really not possible to take time off.”
She takes a ballet class every day for at least an hour and a half on top of regular cardio and fitness classes at the gym. When rehearsal season does begin, she is working 7–8 hours a day with her company preparing for the next performance.
“As a professional you have to be on top of your game and ready to perform really at any moment,” Copeland shares.
Her devotion to breaking a sweat is something she is trying to encourage more people to adopt. While the average person does not plan the majority of their time around dance, Copeland says you don’t need to be trained in ballet to use its techniques. There are a number of exercises and movements that people can incorporate into their everyday exercise routine. Copeland believes exercise can be appropriate for any age, and can be practiced just about anywhere. She focuses on controlled movements, stretching and core building.
“You don’t have to have a ton of money and be able to purchase a gym membership, a private trainer or a private chef who’s going to feed you. Use what’s around you,” Copeland advises. “I think that’s what’s so beautiful about ballet; you’re not using anything other than your body. My new book, Ballerina Body, uses the thought process, structure and culture of ballet that is so beautiful. You are able to use similar techniques by lying on the floor and slowly building the same muscles as a ballerina.”
Copeland says sleep is key to maintaining peak fitness and giving her muscles recovery time. She is adamant about eight hours of shuteye every night.
“That’s so important to me; I sacrifice a lot to get sleep,” Copeland says. “Right now I’m in the prime of my career, and it’s all great and wonderful, but I still have to be able to go on stage and perform night after night.”
Copeland also believes in the power of massage to help aid muscle rehabilitation. A foam roller or baths with Epsom salt are her secrets to relaxing stiff muscles in the comfort of her own home.
A strict routine of exercise, recovery and sleep helps build physical strength and stamina; however, it’s an internal drive that builds true champions, and Copeland has no shortage of perseverance.
Copeland grew up in San Pedro, California, as one of six children. Her family struggled to make ends meet and at times lived out of a motel room, but after discovering ballet through the local Boys and Girls Club, she went on to defy the odds in every way. This motivation to give herself a better life was rooted in her bold character.
“I don’t think that as a young person growing up in San Pedro, California, I could have imagined
a career for myself or what I would be doing,” Copeland says. “I think that it’s important to believe in yourself. It’s great to have a support system around you, but more importantly, if you don’t believe in yourself, then I just don’t think success and going after what you want is even possible.”
Blazing new trails has not always been easy for Copeland. She admits outside pressures are prevalent in today’s society, but she’s always felt the need to set an example as an African-American woman breaking barriers in the ballet world.
“Be different and be who you are,” Copeland advises. “I think that’s something that’s very hard in this day and age with all the access we have to social media and seeing what’s defined as healthy or beautiful, or what you’re supposed to look like. I think it’s so important for us to focus on ourselves and do what works for us.”
It’s a message that she has spread through many platforms over the past few years. Not only has Copeland appeared in numerous publications and TV programs, but she was also appointed by former President Barack Obama to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in 2014. This type of attention might be normal for most supreme athletes, but it is a rarity in the ballet world.
“I am very fortunate to have partnerships and to be able to be seen by a broader audience and really educate people in all that it takes to get to the stage — the behind-the-scenes athleticism that people don’t understand because we work so hard to make it look effortless.
“I think at some point when I’m retired, I’ll be able to look back and enjoy all that I’ve done, and look back and celebrate and party; but now is not the time because I understand what I need to do to take care of my body.”
Tweet @mistyonpointe and @hlmsmag about her #SamsClubMag story.
Jodi Marsh is Executive Editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.