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Local ballerina rises to national stardom

March 29, 2012 9:20:15 PM PDT
A local ballerina is busting down barriers and living her dream. Misty Copeland is "en pointe" to becoming the first African-American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. This week she's in Southern California starring in "Firebird."

It's not often Orange County gets the first look at an American Ballet Theatre performance. "Firebird" opens Thursday night at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa as a world premiere. Starring as the Firebird on Friday night is a face familiar to Southern California: San Pedro's very own Misty Copeland.

"It's nice to be able to come home, but to be able to come home and do a role of this magnitude for the first time in my career, it means so much and I feel such warmth and love," said Copeland.

Copeland's journey has been a favorite subject on ABC7. For the past 15 years, we've been following her ascension through the ranks of the ballet world, first as a high school prodigy, a girl overcoming poverty to study ballet in San Francisco, and eventually earning a spot as a soloist for the world-renowned ABT in New York. All the while Copeland's been a relative rarity as an African-American ballerina.

"It's very rare to see a black woman," said Copeland. "I think it's been harder for the classical ballet world to kind of accept something that they're not used to seeing.

"I hope to be a positive role model and set an example, and I think that I'm proof that it's possible," said Copeland. "I think that so many girls at such a young age, especially African-American girls, are kind of turned away because they don't see someone up there that looks like them."

Copeland's rise is certainly changing that, and the way ballet is being perceived by younger generations.

The 29-year-old is also a frequent collaborator with pop-music star Prince.

"He's an incredible artist and I feel like we've kind of both pushed each other because we're in completely separate worlds, but at the same time there are so many similarities," said Copeland.

After "Firebird's" Orange County run wraps up Sunday, Copeland's back off to New York with the rest of the company.

She's an amazing young talent who's defying the odds and setting the ballet world on fire.

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