For Disney’s Christmas retelling of “The Nutcracker,” Misty Copeland has been cast to perform the ballet in the movie. She is also the first African-American female principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater. Her presence as the ballerina offers an opportunity to help diversify the prototypes surrounding ballet dancers. Copeland has stated that she hopes her inclusion will accomplish this. Being made the image of the ballerina in the classic Christmas tale gives Copeland a chance to open up the prototype of the ballerina to be more than the blonde white version that many people have in their minds. Copeland is taking the role in stride, and has always been a vocal person about the lack of diversity in ballet. Being involved with a company as far-reaching as Disney only makes the role a stronger vehicle for diversifying ballet’s image.
I think it’s amazing that Disney chose to cast Copeland for the movie. Exposing young children to a different image of a ballerina than the norm can go a long way in opening up peoples’ minds, and giving young black girls a model to aspire towards. While African-Americans have carved out their out space in the dance scene through hip hop and breaking cultures, the classical and higher arts have often appeared to have a barrier that couldn’t be breached. In the same way that people tend to attribute higher-level teaching to male teachers, many may also attribute higher arts to white people (barring notable exceptions). Introducing an African-American ballerina to a mainstream medium can go a long way in breaking down those mental barriers. Copeland gets to represent and diversify ballet through this one role that much of her dance career has pivoted around.