Pop Culture

'I was born to do this': How ballet star Misty Copeland fought adversity — and won

They told her she had the wrong body type for classical ballet: too short, too curvy. Her lines were all wrong. The color of her skin stood out too starkly from that of her fellow ballerinas.

Misty Copeland kept right on dancing — and proved the naysayers wrong.

The former ballet prodigy, now 31, has become the first African-American soloist at the American Ballet Theatre in 20 years, and this week premiered in the lead dual role of Odette/Odile in the company's Australian production of “Swan Lake.”

Copeland's book "Firebird" aims to inspire kids to work hard and have faith in themselves.

That’s just the latest development in a whirlwind year that saw Copeland become a New York Times best-selling author (her memoir, “Life In Motion,” was released in March), as well as an Internet sensation thanks to an empowering viral ad for Under Armour. And Copeland is nurturing the next generation of fans with her new children’s book “Firebird,” which tells the story of a young girl who battles self-doubt to reach amazing heights. 

Copeland talked with TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager about her unlikely rise to prominence in the performing arts — and how it feels to be at the forefront of a true dance revolution.

  • On breaking boundaries in "Swan Lake": "There's just something about that ballet that people just — you envision this very pale Russian extremely tall woman as the swan. And typically people don't see African-American women as ballerinas because they don't think that we're soft and feminine and sylph-like. They see us as very powerful and aggressive. And so I want to have the opportunity to prove them wrong."

  • On how dance helped during her difficult upbringing: "I really enjoyed moving to music. That was kind of an escape for me just throughout my childhood."

  • On her hit viral ad: "I think so many people can relate to it — not just as a dancer within the ballet world, but just feeling different, feeling like you don't fit in."

  • On the sweet taste of success: "I am living my dream. And it's surreal every day. I just try to take it one step at a time."