Ballerina Misty Copeland spoke about her humble beginnings and overcoming professional and personal challenges in a toast at the TIME 100 gala on Tuesday.
Copeland, who was the only African American ballerina at the American Ballet Theater during her first decade there, said she felt a calling to dance in unlikely circumstances. “As a 13-year-old growing up in Los Angeles, California, this very diverse place, I was living in a motel with my single parent, with my mother and five of my siblings. And that’s when ballet found me,” she said.
The author and dancer, who was named one of the world’s most influential people in the 2015 TIME 100, said that one of her major influences was Raven Wilkinson, the first African American ballerina to dance in an elite international dance company, and now her neighbor in New York City.
“She’s become an incredible role model for me, and someone who has sparked this curiosity for me to try and open up the doors for the history of African American ballerinas that I feel is just not told.”