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tv   Talk to Al Jazeera  Al Jazeera  December 31, 2015 5:30pm-6:01pm EST

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they got here. they don't have to go to europe, just stop the war, just that. ♪ ♪ >> s i was the first to have my identity. >> i never felt a connection to anything or anyone. and i was constantly just trying to fit in.
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copeland only stumbled in to ballet at 13, she had natural talent. >> i started to realize this is beautiful, and this is challenging. >> but she had to fight for the right to dance. eventually even suing her mother for emancipation. >> being in a public school and having your story plastered all over the media not just in your city but all over the nation was traumatizing. >> not only did she have to challenge erskine color, but her body type, too. now she wants to waive the way of children of all backgrounds . >> to push as hard as i can to go as far as i can so they'll have an easier path. >> i spoke to her about her life story recently in new york. >> tell me about the moment that you discovered
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ballet. >> ballet discovered me. it found me. well dance was always just a part of my natural state as a child. it's something that i just--whenever music was playing i was dancing. it became this escape for me that i don't think i realized it was that for many years. it was a way to escape the chaos of being one of six children and so many different things. >> and moving a lot. >> and moving a lot. just so many things that weren't ideal as a child, and movement became that escape for me. >> when i was 13, i tried out for the dance team at my public school and was told i should take a ballet class at the boys and girls club, where i was a member. i think it was when i stepped into the ballet studio, the actual studio because my first class was on a basketball court. i don't think i really grasped
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ballet was, and i was extremely intimidated by it. it was my step into the ballet studio that i realized that this is beautiful, and this is challenging and this is the extreme beauty escape that i've craved my entire life. >> the story goes from the moment you started you were basically a prodigy. it's just what you were meant to be doing. did it feel that way? >> not until i became a professional that i would understand the weight of that word and the expectation that would come along with that. whether you're going to succeed being extremely gifted at a young age. at the time it was fun. i was being pushed and challenged into something that i liked doing. and i looked forward to learning every day and growing. and perfecting this incredible art form that i knew i was never going to perfect, but the challenge of approaching that
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every day was something that i had never experienced before. >> you said it was fun, but you wrote in your book i was a nervous child, and coupled with a perpetual quest for perfection made my life much harder than it needed to be. how so? >> this was definitely before dance that i just never felt a real connection to anything or anyone. i was constantly just trying to fit in. i didn't want to be the best at anything. i just wanted to england in. that was my existence. my family experiences at moment was just blending in in to the background through my other siblings, which was easy to do, i just was always so nervous i was going to say the wrong thing or be judged, and i think i got used to kind of hiding what was happening at home that i was
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embarrassed about, and it just became who i was. >> talk more about your home. ballet is very organized. there are rules. but you wrote in talking about your family. our family began a pattern that would define my five siblings and my childhood. packing and leaving and often just barely surviving. you touched on this a little bit, but how did that define who you are now? >> um, i think that it has give me more appreciation for the incredible world that i'm a part of now. it gave me appreciation for how fortunate i am to be on the bath that i am, to have the opportunities that i have. i think it's given me a thicker skin, life experiences to pull from at a very young age to become an artist on the stage that i think a lot of children
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who grow up blissfully unaware of things happening that once you get on stage to become a performer, where am i pulling this from to become another person, to become another character? i think having the experiences that i did at home kind of allowed me to dig deeper. so i look at them as tools and something that i tried to turn into something positive. >> tell me about your first ballet teach ms. cynthia bradl bradley. >> cindy, um, i think she's the first person who believed that i could do anything. i think my mother definitely thought that, i think she thinks that of all of they are children. but the situation that we grew up in, i don't think it was something that was ever spoken and cindy would say it over and over again out loud. it was the first time that i would develop an identity of my
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own. i started to feel that i'm worthy i have a foist. i'm good at something. she never made me feel that i was different from anyone because i was african-american. because of my circumstances because i started late. she would just always say you are so extremely special. >> that, though, led to a very turbulent time for you when you go to live with your teacher, and there comes a point when your mother is not okay with that. can you talk to me about this process that you went through of suing your mother for emancipation. >> i was 15 years old, and when i say that, 15 years old, the maturity mindset of maybe an 11-year-old. i was definitely a late bloomer and i really didn't come in to my own until i was in my 20s,
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and i think dancing definitely gave me the opportunity to ex-floor and to grow into the person that i don't think i could be without it. i never would have become this person without ballet. but at that time all i wanted to do was dance. i was being told that, well, by my mother firsthand that she wanted me to be home, which made complete sense. i've given you three years to live with your teacher, get the training you needed, and now you need to be back home. then i was hearing from my teacher that if you leave now you may not dance again. i don't know if that's the priority within your family situation, your mother is a single parent. you know, just trying to survive, keeping kids off the streets, being schooled and fed, and i was being pulled between these two worlds and
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one that i was becoming accustomed, the ballet world and the thought of tha losing that was death. it was the first time that i had an identity, and i felt special and the thought of losing that was terrifying. so to be 15 years old, and to be so private just b nurtur by nature, and to have this emancipation. it turned out to be more than i thought it would be. i thought it would allow me the opportunity to be an adult and dance on my own, that i would still be with my teacher, i could still be with my family and everything would be great, but that's not how things worked out. i think that both parties had my best interest at heart, and they were trying to do what they could to do what they thought
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was best for me. but being in a public school and having your story plastered all over california but all over the united states was traumatizing. >> you say that you were trying to understand mommy. do you understand herbert now that you're an adult? >> i have more of an understanding and appreciation. of course i probably will never know until i'm a parent, but i try every day to understand. >> of course. you also said that the battle of my mind and spirit raged on. was that just you trying to work through the aftermath of everything, was that what that was? >> yes, to recover. emotionally, psychologically, and then to be summoned into my
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first ballet studio. it was intimidating people have these pre-conceived ideas of who i was because they saw me all over the newspapers, and it was terrifying for me to walk into this school, to be judged, and for people to be looking at me like this is this prodigy, let's see what she's got. it was a lot of pressure. it was a lot to handle after going through what i went through. >> you're now one of the world's most famous ballet dancers. you have commercials, you have two books. there is a reality show, there are so many things that have come after this difficult path. did you ever envision--and you forgot with prince on stage. i forget that one. did you ever envision that this is what your life could be? >> no, no. it's still hard to accept that it's a reality.
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again, i just--i'm so humbled and grateful for the background that i have in this situation that i've been through. i want to be able to give back to ballet for what it has done for me, and that's this constant battle that i have to improve myself, and getting all th the exposure that i've been getting not as someone who is famous because i've never wanted that, but i want the ballet world to be given the respect that it deserves and to be seen by more people, for many to experience the beauty that i've received from the ballet world.
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and with every opportunity , it's still such a shock and overwhelming. i never step outside of myself and think that's me. it's like, that's a prou proud woman. that's the little girl i mentored. that's ballet. it makes me so proud to be a part of it. >> there is a constant refrain for little brown girls that is constant. it's clear that that's what motives you, that's what drives you. i'm sure there are little brown girls who meet you who get emotional when they see you. i can't imagine the pressure, but i imagine it's got to be kind of an honor, too. >> i don't feel any pressure from that at all.
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it is the same way i look at how emotional i got to be the first african-america to meet the first african-american ballet dancer to dance. it keeps me pushing to go as far as i can so others can have an easier path. >> we talk about race and body image in the world of ballet.
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>> the only live national news show at 11:00 eastern. >> we start with breaking news. >> let's take a closer look. >> i'm richelle carey. this is "talk to al jazeera," and my guest this week, ballerina misty copeland. how does it feel when people talk about your body and how do you process that? >> um, i don't think i really understand as a young adult when i became a professional between the ages of 17 and up to 25 it was still i wasn't really in an understanding that this is my instrument and people are
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judging this and the way that i translate things through my body. i understand it now. i work so hard to get it to work the way it does and do the things, and it takes so much training and discipline and sacrifice. it is what it is, it's art. people will look at it, judge it, and that's what i'm--i understand that's what i'm going to get back when i put myself out there on the stage. i feel comfortable with it. >> i was going to ask were you ever insecure about that? >> i think every's body is constantly changing, for the most part, no, i'm comfortable being in this position, and being professional now for 15 years. my body is my instrument. >> it just occurred to me when
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you said that, knowing what a role model that you are for young girls, that's a great message that they can get from you about being secure in who they are even when people are being very critical of them. that's a powerful lesson. >> yes, it's a lot. i think no one can just convince themselves of this on their own. every day like, forget the haters and what they're saying, i'm beautiful. we all have our moments of just like you can't convince yourself of that on your own its important to have support and people who are going to be there when you have those moments when you can't get through. >> people assume there are a lot of eating disorders in the world of ballet. can you put that in some perspective? is that so, or is it over blown? >> you know we are athletes.
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we have to take care of our bodies. but we physically have to be strong enough to get through eight hour rehearsal days, perform and these things. you wouldn't last very long if you were putting your body through that type of malnutrition, and then having to stand on your toes and do this incredibly complicated work. so that hasn't been my experience. >> ballet obviously is largely considered a light sport. but there you are. on the stage. there you are really one-of-a-kind for lack of a better term. have there been moments of racism that you've had to deal with face-to-face? >> not so much face to face. and i'm happy that i haven't had that intense and
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dramatic , traumatic experience, but i have dealt with it, and it's definitely been more secondhand, hearing what people have said about me, and people in high places as well as just reading things. you just can't change everyone's opinions. all you can do is be the best that you can be. but for me what's been hard is hearing from the young dancers that i mentored, and knowing that they've experienced it firsthand and told to their face you're not the right color for ballet. you don't belong. you shouldn't do that. that to me is so awful for me to hear. i feel like it's me hearing those words when i hear it from them. and just trying to undo all the damage. and let them know that there is a way to kind of create your own path within the world of ballet. you just have to be really strong. >> really strong. stronger than i think most
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people realize, incredibly strong. you're saying this, and i'm thinking in my head of this dr. pepper ad. was it your idea, the concept for it? >> no, the "one of a kind" no, yeah, i think that's why they came to me. i fit in to the idea of what the ideal was for that campaign. it was so positive. that's why i wanted to be a part of it. it's promoting and it's okay to be different. it's okay not to follow this direct path that others have been on. and it's okay to be one-of-a-kind. >> absolutely. you're the face of under armor. >> yes. >> it blew up on social media. it was huge. it was wonderful. the campaign was "i will what i want." and it talks about professional
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obstacles, reject letters, how do you deal with that? with professional obstacles, with maybe not always achieving or being earthed what you think you worked for. >> that's something that i definitely struggled with my early years as a professional. not really understanding that it's not enough to be talented. you--we are in patrol of our destiny. it's up to us to be able to understand what we want. to be able to execute what it is that we want, and not to be afraid to tell people what we want. that was the start of me ending up on the path i wanted to be on for my career. it was not just assuming that these people would know what i wanted, but to let them know.
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i work really hard, and i see myself having more of a future as a classical dancer not just contemporary dance. that's when i saw a change in my career. the kids that i mentor, just because you're thinking it does not mean that other people hear it. you have to say it. >> that's very insightful to tell young people at a very young age to be able to speak up for yourself. >> especially with dancers. it's ingrained in us in the format of how classical ballet worked, you're forever a student, which we are. you're in the classroom. you don't speak. you receive information from the people in the front of room. you're not asked for your opinion. so you get used to not having a voice, and you can get lost in that. >> you still take class? >> oh, yes, you have to.
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it never ends. i don't know how to explain it. it's how we warm up every day, and it's also how we fine-tune our instruments. it's the same way with any instrument, i don't know what you call it, when you fine tune it. you keep it in tip-top form and shape. that's what ballet class does for us. >> get an in-depth look at the problems facing professional sports: see what you've been missing.
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>> you're watching "talk to al jazeera." i'm richelle carey.
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someone who has taken the ballet world by storm: misty copeland. >> one of your personal goals was to be the first black principle dancer at the american ballet theater. still a goal? >> i think every dancer's goal, we become dancers because we see those roles, and you dream of dancing these iconic roles. so of course that is still my goal. but i don't want it to overshadow what is actually happening because i'm so happy with where things are, and the roles that i'm dancing, and every time i get an opportunity to dance them. it's not just a quick fight to get to the position. but it's about the journey, learning and becoming the artist that i'm becoming.
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so if and when that happens i'll be completely ready and comfortable to accept that role. >> i think that you're breaking down stereotypes in ways that i don't think people realize the depth of it. and what you're doing on the stage is chipping away at that every day. >> i hope so. that's the incredible thing about this art form is that we have the opportunity to morph into these other characters and show that we're so much deeper than the labels, and how people perceive what we're capable of, and to get the opportunities to prove them wrong. >> you did your research. >> you're one of the most prepared journalists i've ever known. >> go inside the lives of musical icons. >> i was given a gift... i think i've used it well.
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>> i want the ballet world to be given the respect that it deserves. >> and global activists. >> i feel compelled to do it, because if i don't do it, who's going to do it. >> revealing conversations you won't find anywhere else. >> when i became aware of my surroundings, there was no electricity. it was quiet then. >> the land was wide. no dust. nothing but green grass, tall green grass, so pretty. it used to start freezing,

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