TODAY   |  November 23, 2013

Meet a trailblazer at the American Ballet Theatre

For Misty Copeland. a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, discovering dance at her local Boys and Girls Club was life-changing. TODAY’s Erica Hill reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> story after professional dancer who wants to inspire young children to follow their dreams.

>> she is already making that happen for missy copeland who is a soloist for the american ballerina here in new york. discovering dance at her local boys and girls club was life changing. she is now paying it back.

>> reporter: missy copelands not your typical ballerina. for starters, she didn't begin dancing until age 13.

>> people train for 15 years before they possibly go on to become a professional and he trained for four years and take want into american balle theater.

>> reporter: her ride was swift and talent undeniable. it's not only her skill that sets copeland apart. at 25, missy copeland made history at american ballet theater 's first african-american soloist in two decades.

>> reporter: a lot of people see you and your success as seeing a chance they can take a chance and follow their dreams. what is it like to be in that position?

>> i always say it's a lot of pressure to put on someone to carry an entire race, but it's happened that way for me. and i'm comfortable with that and i feel that it's a part of why i'm here. not just to be a dancer, but to be thaterson for someone.

>> reporter: of the more than 370 dancers at the nation's top ballet company , just 25 are women of color . a fact missy copeland and the american ballet theater are now work to go change.

>> the issue is really access. it's about the pipeline. it's identifying really talented kids early and getting them what they need is the key.

>> reporter: when you see her dance in this room and you know a lot of it hasome from you.

>> so emotional. it feels like change is happening.

>> reporter: abt and copeland recently launched a project an initiati aimed at diversifying the nation's ballet company by supporting students like 16-year-old twins nae circumstances r and shakir mohammed.

>> i think it's been like this for so long that people are just trying to --

>> reporter: do you feel like you guys are changing that perception now?

>> i think so, yeah.

>> reporter: the project is the first time that i feel like i have a voice and people get it.

>> reporter: in addition to awarding 225,000 in scholarship, they are expanding its reach makining extra personal for copend who first fell in love with this ballet years ago in her local club.

>> ballet is going to be diversified but we have to start somewhere.

>> reporter: as for copeland , beginning that process is a place where she made history. it seems the perfect way to start.

>> they are partnering with ballet companies to open up access and copeland has a memoir coming out and working for a documentary for the children's book so she also wants to get her message out to other kids to let them know if i can do this, you can do too.