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Her biggest hurdle: A woman of color with curves, Copeland doesn't resemble the typical ballerina. "My body type has been an obstacle," she says—and so has her race. "When I first joined the company, I didn't really notice. Then a board member said, 'You might be the first black ballerina here.' I looked around and was like, 'Oh.' It's something the ballet world is still getting used to."
Lesson she's learned: When Copeland started at ABT at age 18, she hit the town almost as much as she danced. "I wanted to date and see things," she says. "But it's hard to call that a mistake. You bring your life experience to your art. If I hadn't lived during that time, I wouldn't be the dancer I am."
What the experts say: "She has an incredible talent for organic movement." —Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director, American Ballet Theatre
Breakthrough advice: "If you try something and you feel a connection to it, you have to pursue it." —Katie Arnold-Ratliff