Life in Motion - Misty Copeland

I never thought it was possible for a ballet dancer to write an autobiography without any ballet in it. Seriously.  There is no ballet in this book.

What is it about then?

More than half of  Copeland's tome, entitled Life in Motion, is dedicated to Copeland's mother problems.

All jokes aside, if the sentence doesn't contain the words I, I, I, or me, me, me then it has Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.  Exact use of the word, mind you.  The actual word mother was only used once or twice probably a lapse in attention by Copeland's ghost writer.

Copeland had a hard upbringing.  That isn't in dispute.  But despite her mommy rants, I saw a woman who was both desperate for love and trying to raise an overly large family.  Yes, Copeland is right that her mother should have been thinking more about stability for her children.  But on the other hand, her mother seemed extremely young and a bit immature.  However despite it all, Copeland's mother managed to keep all her children together, in school and out of trouble.  All except for Copeland.  Who at the first opportunity bailed on her own family in order to live with her ballet school instructor.  The blame for the subsequent media storm falls on the shoulders of Copeland and her mentor.  There was plenty of support the teacher could have offered to Copeland without pulling her out of her home, something she had no right to do.  Copeland could have done with a bit of humbling.  Her teacher puffed her up with so much hot air that she was convinced she was a special snowflake who required more attention than her other siblings.  Instead Copeland projects that her mother was seething with jealousy rather than consider that her mother was terrified about Copeland running away.  And run away she did.

So what about the little runaway's ballet dreams?

We learn nothing about her training.  Only that she repeatedly states she has the perfect body for ballet.  I'm not kidding, she states this several times in the book.  She also writes several times of how proud she was of her backward bending legs.  Her hyper-extension was perfect for ballet.  Perfect up until the time her leg was broken when she was well into her ABT career.  But she still thinks they are perfect because the hyper-extension is still one of her main problems.  I witnessed it myself when I saw her dance the Peasant Pas de Deux in Giselle.  But in pictures of her youth, this problem was not exaggerated.  She had relatively straight legs, straight compared to what she has now.  I believe the problem was always there but most likely worsened because her teacher put on her pointe way too early.  Copeland wrote that she was on pointe a mere 3 months after beginning training.  This was done because she was a pure natural and she could mimic any movement.  That may be true but this young girl should never have been put on pointe so early.  She has visible leg problems because of it.  Even now, she lacks the strength of her conventionally trained colleagues.  Since Copeland barely hammers her pointe shoes for performance, this means she relies on the manufacturer's technology to hold her aloft rather than the strength of her feet.  Which is why her shoes clomp during her performances.  But to be fair, Copeland isn't the only dancer at ABT who is tap dancing across the stage during performances.  The gold standard of pointe dancing is a mix of dancer's strength mixed with technology.  But with strength winning out.  Just watch any video of Alessandra Ferri.  She broke in her toe shoes until the point in which they were almost dead.  Most of her pointe work relied on her own strong, flexible feet.  Her dancing was whisper soft.  I can attest to this, I saw one her legendary Juliet performances way back when.

Which brings us to other dancers.  Copeland barely mentions them.  She writes in passing that she liked Paloma Herrera and Gelsey Kirkland.  Other black dancers are only mentioned in relation to herself or by how much they praise her.  But as far as opinions on her own contemporaries (not friends).  NOTHING.  Which is so odd.  Because I've read plenty of other dancer biographies and all of them, except for Copeland, mentioned his/her colleagues.  Everyone from Kirkland to Farrell wrote about fellow dancers they admired, who they wanted to look like, who was promoted faster or not at all. Copeland's singularity in her book about dance is so insular it is as if she is living in a bubble.  In relation to this Copeland never writes of her experiences during her ABT Corps years. We never get a sense of the rhythm of her life when she joined the company.  What ballets did they perform her first year?  What was it like to learn a large repertoire?  What was it like to be one among many when before she was the big fish in the small pond?  Copeland barely mentions her Corps experience.   Instead we jump right into her soloist years and her star turn with Prince.  I swear to you, we read more of her experience with Prince than we do of her career at ABT.  Strange.

In fact, Copeland only writes about ballet when she is in a starring role.  But even then, it is only about how she feels.  There is nothing about her rehearsals, her own personal work on the roles, her thoughts on choreography or the music.  We only get occasional personal affirmations that she is perfect, her body is perfect, she is god's gift (I wish I was lying about this, but Copeland writes it) and everyone else is jealous or a racist.

And what about racism?  Where is the evidence of it?  By all facts, Copeland has had a good career.  She really stretches for examples of her trials against racism.  Someone, somewhere stated that she was too dark for Swan Lake.  This was why she didn't perform as one of the 4 cygnets during her first years in the company.  Well who said it? When? Where? How?  If we could verify this, Copeland has a good case. But it seems to me that Copeland was not thought advanced enough to perform the role.  The rest of it was Copeland's paranoia rather than admit she was probably not ready physically or professionally for the role.  She states she was turned down by the NYCB summer program in her school years.  Obviously because she was black.  Is that so? Did she hear it through dance channels?  Really?  The company that was one of the trailblazers in having black dancers in its ranks?  Really?  Or was it more likely that they took one look at those grossly hyper-extended knees and correctly deduced that Copeland was heading for early obsolescence.  She was told early in her Corps years that she had to lengthen in her body.  Copeland attributes this to everyone thinking black dancers get too fat, too muscular or are too buxom.  But NO, that isn't what they were saying at all.  Any pictures of Copeland now or in her early years don't show a dancer who is fat.  They do show and still show a dancer who needs to lengthen her muscles.  Her muscularity isn't about being black, it is about her body type.  Period.  And undertaking exercises to smooth out the knotty looking muscles on her body would not only look better it would relieve some of the pain and stiffness she experiences now.  These muscles are getting in her way.  Instead she treats it as a black issue which is the reason she will do nothing about it.

Anyway, it was a book that was an interesting, if unintended, peek into her psyche.  Although Copeland wrote it for a young audience inspired by dance, she gives them no tidbits about getting a ballet career started.  She never writes about how she started auditioning, how she picked her schools, how she got a sponsor (natch) or a publicist (double natch).  By Copeland's skewed writing, she is a rock, she is an isssssland!

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