Misty Copeland and Sally Field on the Social Significance of Their Success

She has used her influence to advocate greater inclusivity in dance and in society, not only through her performances, but also in endorsement deals, most notably with the clothing company Under Armour, and with her three books: a best-selling memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”; the children’s book “Firebird”; and, most recently, “Ballerina Body,” which was released in March.


Ms. Copeland is the first African-American principal dancer in the history of American Ballet Theater.

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Over lunch at Charlie Bird in SoHo (grilled octopus and burrata for Ms. Copeland; roast chicken with arugula salad for Ms. Field), they discussed the social significance of their success, the complicated childhoods that spurred them, and the political meaning of their work in the early days of the Trump administration.

Philip Galanes Do you know why we put you together?

Sally Field Oh, dear.

PG Because you reinvented the way people see you. That a prima ballerina can have brown skin and curves. That a major dramatic actress can start out in silly sitcoms. When did you first understand you’d have to fight for that?

SF Well, it’s harder for women in any arena than it is for men. It just is. And even more so in show business, where they shove women into stereotypical little boxes. But I was also battling television itself. If you had any success on TV in the ’70s, you could never transition into film. My agents and managers said: “No, no, no. You’re not pretty enough; you’re not good enough.”

PG Did you believe them?

SF Of course not. I fired them. But I believed them, too. We all have so many pieces inside us. One piece was injured because my feelings were hurt. Another piece, a driving one, was freaking angry at being told I wasn’t good enough. But even stronger than those was my desire to find the butterfly inside me, the one I’d first found in the seventh grade, doing my first scene on a school stage. Something happened. I found my own voice. All the other ones that said: Don’t do this, and don’t do that; they were gone. I felt the sparkle of being alive. Then it was gone. But I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to find it again and grow it and use it.

Misty Copeland When I first came into the ballet world, I didn’t feel any limits, which is interesting, because there are so many limits for black women. Growing up the way I did, struggling for day-to-day survival. Where are we going to stay? What are we going to eat? That made me such an introvert and so nervous about life. But when I came to ballet, at 13, it was the first time I felt calm and protected and beautiful.

PG I felt profound kinship with you when I read that you asked your mom to drive you to middle…

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