Slice of Life

Misty Copeland talks to SU students about how dance became her ‘escape’


Guest speaker Misty Copeland (bottom) and moderator Shanel Bailey shared deep conversations during the Syracuse University Lecture Series event.

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For the second question of Misty Copeland’s conversation as a part of the Syracuse University Lectures series, moderator Shanel Bailey asked Copeland how 2020 changed her.

The ballerina reflected on how she learned to trust herself despite the many hats she wears as an acclaimed dancer, activist and a production company owner.

“Question two is really coming out swinging,” Bailey said after.

Copeland, the first Black woman to be a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, talked with over 800 viewers on Tuesday night for a Zoom webinar. With Bailey, an SU alumna of the Class of 2019, she spoke about COVID-19, healthy ways to take out frustration and, of course, ballet.


Rachel Vassel, the associate vice president of the office of multicultural advancement, introduced both Bailey and Copeland.  Bailey’s first question for the ballerina was what she’s been doing during the pandemic — a mix of cooking and watching the news, Copeland said. The two bonded over being homebodies.


Copeland spoke about when she first discovered her love for dance. She grew up with a mother who was a professional cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs, and it rubbed off on her. Throughout a difficult childhood, she used dancing as an escape.

“Dance became a voice for me,” Copeland said. “It was serving a different purpose.”

Bailey and Copeland also discussed Black History Month, something that Copeland constantly thinks about and tries to celebrate every day, even outside of February. As an acclaimed Black dancer in a primarily white industry, Copeland tries to use her platform to educate people. Part of this is through the book she’s writing about her experiences as a ballerina, which she is planning to release by November.

“It’s important for us to, if we’re not going to be included in history books for us, to write our own history books,” Copeland said.

The final question the SU alumna asked Copeland was what she’d like her legacy to be. Copeland said she wants to show the beauty of art and dance.

“And then I hope that people will say I’m a good dancer,” the award-winning ballerina said.

An 8-year-old girl asked the first question during the Q&A portion. The girl, who loves to dance, wanted to know how Copeland deals with frustration. Copeland responded by saying that she talks about it and lets it out.

Another question came from someone who wanted to know how Copeland deals with impostor syndrome — by remembering one’s worth, she said. Bailey mouthed the word “wow” during Copeland’s answer.

The final Q&A question — “Why art?” — came from SU Drama’s Black Box Players. Bailey posed a challenge to see if Copeland could answer in the least amount of words possible.

“Art reaches places within ourselves that nothing else can … It’s a way to celebrate. It’s a way to love. It’s a way to laugh. It’s a way to hate. It’s a way to express the most human expressions and feelings and emotions,” Copeland said. “It’s so necessary for the human experience.”

“That was a lot of words,” Copeland laughed.

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