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Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


Performing Arts Organization Spotlight Part 1: The Misty Copeland Foundation

To kick off our Performing Arts Organization Blog Series, this post by NDEO Intern Marissa Finklestein, focuses on one of our institutional NDEO members, The Misty Copeland Foundation. The Misty Copeland Foundation was established in 2021. Please find more about the organization here:

In an engaging conversation on The Heart of Giving Podcast, Misty Copeland and Executive Director, Caryn Campbell, discuss The Misty Copeland Foundation’s journey and contributions to the dance field. This blog post delves into the background of The Misty Copeland Foundation and their initiatives as discussed in The Heart of Giving Podcast on December 5, 2023 with host H. Art Taylor, the President and Chief Executive Officer of BBB Wise Giving Alliance/ NDEO is honored to have The Misty Copeland Foundation as an institutional member, and we are excited to share a glimpse into the inspiring work they are doing with our community.

In The Heart of Giving Podcast episode, Copeland shares her own journey becoming the first African American female principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre and how her own arts education impacted her life. Copeland described how her home life was full of artistic influence and how she was always drawn to movement, but she did not have access to formal dance classes. Taking a ballet class at the Boys & Girls Club at the age of 13 transformed her life. Later a teacher who saw her potential took Copeland under her wing, and four years later she was dancing for ABT. Copeland’s own experience underscored the importance of arts education and has fueled her involvement in the field beyond performing. She shares about her own arts education: “It’s allowed me to blossom into the woman that I am today and go on to do so many things, not just as a performer on the stage. It’s given me the confidence to know that I can transition into so many different spaces because I have the same passion and mission in mind when it comes to all of these things that I’m doing.”

Copeland also speaks candidly about the obstacles she faced as a Black woman in the ballet field. She was the only Black woman in ABT for her first decade in the company, and she was not considered for many classical roles. Copeland was able to advocate for herself due to the support system she had, particularly from other Black women, and she wants to be able to be this figure of support for the next generation. Throughout her career, she has wanted to find ways to give back to others and expose others to the experiences she has had. During the pandemic, Copeland had more time to put these plans into action and form The Misty Copeland Foundation. She shares, “The pandemic really allowed me some space to step back and say what can I really do to create something that is really meaningful— that will hopefully last beyond me for young people, especially young people who are in under-resourced communities to be able to be exposed to the arts and ballet specifically.”

The Misty Copeland Foundation was formed in 2021. Copeland was connected with Jane Polin, who became her Philanthropic Advisor and recruited Caryn Campbell. Campbell joined The Misty Copeland Foundation as the Executive Director after working as the Director of Patron Engagement for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Campbell says, “I dropped everything so I could go work with Misty because what she wants to do with the foundation, and in particular to start with the signature program BE BOLD, is to work with young children in a way that has not been done before.”

BE BOLD is “a new approach to afterschool dance education that aims to make ballet accessible, affordable and fun, especially for young children of color” (The Misty Copeland Foundation). The program recently celebrated its one year anniversary. In the podcast, Copeland and Campbell emphasize how they created the program framework instead of curriculum, so it has room to grow and breathe. The framework was designed by Misty, in consultation with diverse leaders from the fields of ballet, dance education, DEI training, and child development. The goal of BE BOLD is to make ballet accessible, affordable, and fun, especially for young children of color. In the BE BOLD classes, students learn about ballet history that highlights dancers of color, engage with various types of live accompaniment, and take agency. The program currently operates at 14 sites throughout the Bronx and Harlem in New York. The Misty Copeland Foundation partners with organizations where BE BOLD takes place, including the Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, Harlem Children’s Zone, University Settlement, and other community based organizations.

Copeland shares in her conversation with Taylor that BE BOLD is an opportunity to meet these young people where they are, and it is also an opportunity to create community in the ballet world, specifically for the program’s teaching artists and musicians. In the development of the BE BOLD program, The Misty Copeland Foundation worked with a child development psychologist to conduct research to better prepare their teaching artists and musicians to work with children and a DEIA consultant as well. Copeland shares how this not only supports the children in the classes, but also helps the teaching artists heal from their own trauma of how they might have been taught dance throughout their own upbringing. The approach of BE BOLD helps to not perpetuate a cycle of harmful or unhealthy teaching practices.

When asked by Taylor what the foundation hopes to achieve in a decade, Campbell shares that she hopes they can include mentoring and tutoring in their programs and also expand their programs at the national level. Copeland shares that she hopes they are making a larger impact on the ballet world and that the industry recognizes ways to make more inclusive changes and not continue harmful practices. She sees the ways the foundation is reaching children as a big responsibility. Copeland shares, “Movement is an incredible and powerful form of expression.” In a nation where not everyone has access to dance education, The Misty Copeland Foundation seeks to share this power of dance with future generations.

Listen to the full The Heart of Giving episode with Misty Copeland and Caryn Campbell: ​​

Learn more about The Misty Copeland Foundation by visiting their website and Instagram.

Is your performing arts organization interested in being featured in our 'Performing Arts Organization Blog Series'?  Click here to answer questions about your organization to be included in the next blog post! Must be an institutional member of NDEO to be included.

All photos courtesy of The Misty Copeland Foundation

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