American Ballet Theater promoted Misty Copeland to principal on Tuesday, making her the first African-American female principal dancer in the theater’s 75-year history.
Copeland, 32, joined Ballet Theater as a member of the corps de ballet in 2001 and was appointed to soloist in 2007. Before her, Ballet Theater’s only black principal dancer was Desmond Richardson, who joined the company as a principal in 1997.
The first black principal dancer to break the color barrier was Arthur Mitchell, when he became a principal dancer at New York City Ballet in 1962. Mitchell and Albert Evans are the only two black principal dancers City Ballet has had.
The New York Times reports Copeland “seemed on the verge” of promotion in 2012 following her performance in the title role of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” but sustained an injury.
Last week, Copeland starred in Ballet Theater’s “Swan Lake” at the Metropolitan Opera house, becoming the first African-American to do so. The Times reports Copeland repeatedly received cheers that stopped the performance.
Last year, President Obama named Copeland to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. TIME also placed her on the cover of its 100 Most Influential People issue this year.
Copeland has also been profiled by “60 Minutes” and has published a memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” and a children’s book, “Firebird.”
Ballet Theater also promoted Stella Abrera to principal dancer on Tuesday and hired outside dancers Maria Kochetkova from the San Francisco Ballet and Alban Lendorf from the Royal Danish Ballet as principals.
- Mike Fiammetta