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Misty Copeland opens up about breaking barriers, her rise to fame on Sunday TODAY

It's been one year since Misty Copeland leaped over barriers to become American Ballet Theatre's first black female principal dancer.
/ Source: TODAY

It's been one year since Misty Copeland leaped over barriers to become American Ballet Theatre’s first black female principal dancer.

And when she sat down with Willie Geist for a Sunday TODAY interview, Copeland revealed that the reality of her first season has lived up to her dreams — and her history-making achievement has further fueled her drive.

“It was like, it hasn't happened for 75 years. Why would it happen to me? And then, at the same time, it gave me even more of this fire that was like, ‘I am carrying so many people with me and I can do this,’” she said.

Thanks to a documentary, a stint on Broadway and numerous endorsement deals, Copeland has become a household name even for those who don’t know their pirouettes from their plies. And while her Under Armour commercial has garnered more than 10 million YouTube views, Copeland remains humble about her fame.

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“I just don't think of myself as a celebrity,” she said. “I didn't expect it to be like that. It was really wild. I don't think anyone in the company or in the dance world — we were all kind of shocked. But I am giving people hope that you don't have to fit into this mold of what society has cut out for you to be in order to succeed.”

Copeland, who discovered ballet at age 13 through the Boys & Girls Club, isn't only inspiring future dancers; she's bringing ballet to a broader audience.

“It's incredible to see the audience change over the past four years. Completely different audience," she said. "And it's amazing to see all these different faces, you know, in different colors — that's what this is about.”

Next, Copeland hopes to motivate dancers of various sizes with a new dancewear line called Egal (French for “equal”).

“I was going through this time where I had gained a lot of weight,” she said. “I went through puberty really late in life and my bust had grown and I was like, ‘I can't fit into these leotards that are like really made for prepubescent young girls.’

"It just became this mission of mine, like, I'm going to create dancewear that people that aren't stick thin can wear but also people that are thin can wear, and eventually, a plus-size line. So, it's finally coming to fruition.”

These days, when young fans approach Copeland, she’s reminded of her own dance idols at that age.

“I mean, I get it,” she said. “I was once that girl and Paloma Herrera was that for me, and to be able to share these things with the people that inspire you means so much more than they probably realize.”

Watch her full interview with Willie above!