Misty Copeland shares ‘strength, confidence, beauty’ with fans through her 2013 calendar

theGRIO Q&A - You don't immediately think of Misty Copeland's meteoric rise in the classical ballet world when appreciating the photographs from her 2013 calendar...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

You don’t immediately think of Misty Copeland’s meteoric rise in the classical ballet world when appreciating the photographs from her 2013 calendar.

Yes, you see the powerful body in graceful repose that she has earned through intensive training as a dancer. But, most of all the images from her first calendar reveal the many sides of an accomplished, young African-American woman. Copeland has used this project to offer another angle of insight into her passion for creative expression.

“I’d say there’s vulnerability in it,” she said of her essence as captured in the pictures. In addition, “There’s strength. There’s confidence. There’s beauty,” she told theGrio in a recent phone interview. These are the qualities she hopes to inspire in her fans.

As the first African-American soloist for the American Ballet Theater in two decades, Copeland exudes a glamour as a ballerina that seems ethereal, but was very down-to-earth as she discussed fashion and her future. Read below to understand the thoughts behind her 2013 calendar, which was designed to appeal to fans beyond those typical of traditional ballet. You will find a grounded, lovely person with a broad understanding of life and art.

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theGrio: Tell us about your new calendar. What was the inspiration for this project?

Misty Copeland: I’ve done so many photo shoots over the course of my career, and I’ve done a handful of them with photographers that I really love, and who I think really get me. Gregg Delman was one of those photographers who I think has an understanding of capturing so much of the essence of who I am. I’ve had so many fans that have reached out and have been trying to get posters of me and find pictures and things like that. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now. [The calendar is] just kind of putting them all in one place for them to have a good representation of who I am.

It’s something that’s a little bit different from your typical classical ballet calendar. I wanted to show the beauty of the body, and how much work we put into what we do, also while showing a little bit of the classic side. I have one shot in there of me in a tutu. I didn’t want to do the typical route of a classical ballet calendar, which is normally all done in costumes — classical tutus — but to switch it up so that there’s more of an appeal for people who might not be so knowledgeable of classical ballet and ballet in general.

I think Gregg did an amazing job of capturing my fashion sense and the body as art, while keeping it kind of modern and cool with a vintage edge.

How long did it take to plan the calendar, then actually shoot the pictures?

It was pretty quick actually. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. But the actual idea, we probably started talking about it over a couple of months. Maybe there was a month of trying to figure out a time that both me and the photographer were available, and that a space was available. The actual shoot probably took about five hours, which is crazy because we shot about 15 different looks. So — Gregg is great! I think the two of us get each other. We just work really fast together.

Was there a particular style icon who inspired you as a major influence for the aesthetic?

You know, I have fashion icons that I look up to. I don’t know if it came through so much in the calendar. There was a model, her name was Donyale Luna. There’s just something about her being a black woman [that was] so tall and lean and so much of what the ballet line is about. But, whenever I think of fashion, definitely my classical ballet background comes into play. I’m always thinking about the line, especially being someone who’s five foot two. That’s so important to me over what’s trendy. I’m always thinking about what will cut the line of my leg and make me look shorter, things like that.

Is this kind of imagery, because it’s not classical ballet imagery, an indication that you are trying to recast yourself as a sex symbol as well as a media personality?

Oh! I don’t know about that… I think that first and foremost I’m a ballerina. There are so many other sides to me that I want to represent, and that’s everything I’m describing with these photos. I think it’s strength and confidence. I don’t know if I like the words “sex symbol.” I think that it’s okay to have sensuality; that’s a huge part of classical ballet as well. There are so many ballets where you can be this confident, strong woman and have a very sensual side about you.

More than outer beauty, an inner sexiness. So not something that’s so overdone or in your face. That’s definitely not me.