By Charlotte Alter
July 6, 2015

Misty Copeland is on fire.

Just days after she became the first black ballerina to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Copeland, a TIME 100 honoree, announced she’ll be dancing the role of Ivy in On the Town on Broadway.

“I was contacted by them and they actually wanted me to go in pretty quickly, and it was all just ‘Oh my gosh, this is not something I ever thought I would do,’” Copeland told TIME of the opportunity to dance the role on Broadway. “If I’m going to be part of a Broadway show, I think this is the one.”

Copeland will dance in the show from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

On the Town is a 1944 musical by Leonard Bernstein that grew out of a Jerome Robbins ballet that originally premiered at the American Ballet Theatre. It’s about three sailors who get to visit New York City for a single day, and features the famous song “New York, New York.” Copeland will play Ivy, the female lead who falls in love with one of the sailors, a role that was originally played by Japanese-American ballerina Sono Osato as part of a deliberate creative choice to make the ballet racially diverse. “It’s so strong and rich with the dancing, and it’s such an incredible role,” Copeland said. “Jerome Robbins was such an incredible part of ABT’s history, so it makes total sense.”

Copeland also opened up about her recent promotion at the American Ballet Theatre, which made her the first black female dancer to be made a principal at the elite 75-year-old company. Although she was explicit about her ambitions in her memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina — writing that she felt “if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them” — she said she didn’t necessarily badger for this promotion inside the company.

“I never found it was appropriate to go in there and say, ‘This is what I need to do and want to do,’ I never asked for roles or anything,” she said. “I was saying ‘I’m eager, I’m hungry, I want these classical roles.’”

She also said the competition is intense. “When you enter a career in ballet, that’s your dream. Everyone’s goal when you join a company is to make it to the top.”

Copeland hopes that her role in On the Town will help her reach a wider audience than the crowd that comes to American Ballet Theatre performances at the Metropolitan Opera. “It’s kind of an eye-opener,” she said. “It’s about bringing them into the dance world and showing them that they can be part of it too, and opening up their dreams.”

And she said the response to her promotion at the ABT has been staggering. “No matter what color these people are that come up to me, I think they really understand what an important direction this is taking dance in, period,” she said. “I think people are recognizing that it’s not about me as an individual but about what I stand for.”

 

Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.

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