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Misty Copeland spoke at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on Aug. 1st. (Courtesy Photo)

Ballet dancer Misty Copeland isn’t from Baltimore. She’s not even from Maryland. Regardless, the California-by-way-of-Missouri native’s visit to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on August 1st felt like a homecoming.

This past June, Copeland was promoted to the role of principal dancer at the famed American Ballet Theatre in New York. She is the first Black person to hold the position in the company’s 75 year history. Her Baltimore appearance marked her first official day on the job.

The event was a chance to promote Copeland’s two books: her memoir titled Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, and her children’s book Firebird. There was a question-and-answer period where audience members could submit questions, followed by a book signing.

People began lining up outside the museum at least an hour before the event was to start. Lots of families, many with young girls, were among those in line. Every seat inside the museum’s theater was filled, as were the seats that lined the museum’s upper lobby.

“Misty Copeland could have chosen to spend this particularly historic day in any number of ways,” museum director A. Skip Sanders told the enthusiastic crowd gathered for a glimpse of the dancer.

“You’ve got the magic ticket,” he said, after thanking them for their patience.

Fans sat in rapt attention, even bursting into applause at times while Copeland spoke.

Before the public event, Copeland answered questions from local media. Among the subjects she touched on: how she is handling fame, why she feels obligated to speak on her experiences as a black woman and what it will take to put more dancers of color in the spotlight.

When asked if she considers herself an activist, Copeland said “I’ve never thought of myself in that way. I’m just speaking my truth and experiences.”

“I started to really talk about race so openly when I became friends with this very small dance community of African Americans and just connecting with them and realizing we’ve all had these experiences and things need to change. It was just me knowing that people could benefit from hearing what’s going on.”

What does she think is needed to help more minority dancers make it to the top?

“I think at this point it’s about continuing the conversation…as well as starting programs that are really going to work,” Copeland said.

“It’s really starting from the root and reaching out to communities that don’t have the exposure or the means to be part of the classical ballet world.”

She said that she’s seen changes, but knows that the process will take some time.

Copeland was born to a single mother, who struggled to provide for her family. She says she would not have the life she has without ballet.

“I’ve always talked about how much the arts can do for someone,” she said. “I never imagined any of these things would be happening in my career. It’s so incredibly special that I have the opportunities that I have. But that’s all because of ballet and it’s all connected to ballet in some way.”

She said fame has taken some getting used to, but she embraces it.

“More people come up to me and want to touch me and hug me, which I understand,” she said. “I think it’s important for me to be real, especially to the younger generation. It’s not this person up on a pedestal but I am them and that’s what I’ve tried to voice so much. It’s not about me as an individual but it’s about what I represent.”