Misty Copeland is best known as a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre—the first African-American woman to hold that position in the company’s history. But she has also appeared in global ad campaigns for brands including Under Armour and Estée Lauder—spaces that have traditionally featured famous faces from the worlds of sports or fashion, not dance.
Over the years, Copeland has also worked with T-Mobile, Dr Pepper, Seiko and Dannon’s Oikos. In 2016, Mattel released a Barbie doll based on her role in the ballet “The Firebird,” complete with red bodysuit and tulle. Copeland also has an ongoing sponsorship deal with Under Armour; despite this, in 2017 she publicly disagreed with the company’s CEO after he praised President Trump’s business acumen.
Last month, LG SIGNATURE named Copeland a brand ambassador. The production company she founded, Life in Motion Productions, is producing its first movie this year, a silent film about the homelessness crisis in California, where she and her husband both grew up. And Google just revealed that over the last 15 years, she was the most-searched ballerina in the world.
Copeland spoke with Ad Age about diverse representation in advertising, her creative process during shoots and the differences between performing onstage and in commercials. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Much has been said about how groundbreaking your ballet career has been. But how important do you think representation is in ads? Your campaigns have been viewed by more people than could possibly see you live onstage.
It's equally important. I think that’s what diversity is—seeing representation in spaces where you don't often see people who look like you, who are whatever that space is lacking. It's really impactful for young people to see themselves represented everywhere.
What’s been powerful to me is when I’ve partnered with beauty brands. I think that’s a huge, huge step, because it's not often been a space that black women have been allowed to be a part of, to be seen or shown or told that they were beautiful and seen as feminine or soft.
And as a dancer, we are not often given the opportunity to have campaigns and endorsement deals, and I’m hoping that it's changing those opportunities for dancers in the future. I don't want it just to be me and for it to go away when I’m too old to do this. The Under Armour campaign showed the athleticism behind the scenes, and I think it’s opening the doors and opening people's eyes and showing that we are athletes—we do deserve the same opportunities, the same pay, the same visibility.