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Misty Copeland becomes first black female principal in the American Ballet Theater

By Marilyn Malara
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Misty Copeland arrives on the red carpet at the American Ballet Theatre Opening Night Spring Gala the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City on May 13, 2013. Her initial goal was to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater and has now reached that goal. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/bbd37eb70aaee6bd952eb9e4b408becc/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Misty Copeland arrives on the red carpet at the American Ballet Theatre Opening Night Spring Gala the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City on May 13, 2013. Her initial goal was to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater and has now reached that goal. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, June 30 (UPI) -- The American Ballet Theater announced Tuesday that Misty Copeland has been promoted to principal dancer -- the highest rank within a professional dance company.

Copeland, 32, is the first African-American woman to hold the position in the company's 75-year history, and only the second black principal dancer overall, after Desmond Richardson, who was a principal at ABT in 1977-1978. She had previously been a soloist for the theater after moving up the ranks since 2000. One of Time Magazine's top 100 most influential people, the professional ballet dancer first started practicing the art when she was 13 at a Boys and Girls club in her hometown. The class was taught by San Pedro City Ballet dancer Cindy Bradley.

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In 2014, Copeland told NPR that Bradley "saw talent that she'd never experienced before, as well as just me, coming from the background I did and not having the best family situation and home. And I think that she saw that ballet was going to create this amazing life for me. So Cynthia brought me into her school on a full scholarship, and she also brought me into her home."

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Copeland shared a video of the initial announcement, along with her reaction, on Instagram Tuesday afternoon. The clip showed her elated smile as she hugged a nearby friend.

The ABT's newest principal dancer is also the author of two books: Firebird, a children's book, and Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. She starred in an ad for Under Armor, which garnered over 8 million views on YouTube and gave her wider recognition in popular culture. The company has since congratulated her on her achievement saying she is "a woman who is driven not by her detractors, but by her desire to be great."

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At Time's Top 100 Gala in April, Copeland said after moving to New York and joining ABT, she noticed she was the only African-American woman in the entire company of 80 dancers.

"And I'm here to be a vessel for all these brown ballerinas who have come before me," she said.

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