The first female African American dancer in the American Ballet Theater, Misty Copeland not only broke racial barriers, but her body—curvy, muscular and powerful—has forever altered the traditional ballerina ideal. Born in Kansas City, Mo. and raised in Los Angeles, Copeland didn’t start dancing until she was 13 years old. But her natural talent—she could stand on pointe after mere months of practice—ushered her towards ballet greatness. Named one of Time Magazine’s “Most Influential People” in 2015, Copeland’s prominence as a mixed-race dancer and popularity outside of a traditionally esoteric art form has helped open up the industry (one that has historically catered to waif-thin, porcelain-white dancers) to young black ballerinas throughout the country.
This article originally appeared in the Rejection issue. For more inspiring stories, check out Look Ma, No Hands! Risky Playground Design and Upping the Ante: Jessica Walsh on Creative Play.