Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

So I’m torn. I’m a big fan of ABT (because Center Stage is the best dance movie ever, and also everything ABT stands for) and I knew of Misty Copeland but I never really cared about her any more than the average principal dancer till I saw her judging on So You Think You Can Dance and HOLY SHIT was she not one of the best guest judges they’d ever had?! Smart, sensitive and sensible: her advice was astoundingly good, and I got the feeling that she genuinely cared about the dancers on the stage and wanted to help them improve. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since, so was super excited to get this book. And for the first part, I was totally with her. But… I dunno. So much of the second half left me cold. Maybe it was because the storytelling stopped being entirely linear, jumping back and forth in her history to illustrate themes instead. Maybe it was because I found it exceedingly hard to be sympathetic to her mother, and thought the part where Misty tried to make her dance teacher’s motives seem ulterior extremely tacky. I know it was difficult to be honest about what had happened, and I admire the courage it took for Misty to present what happened alongside her own, often conflicting motivations as a teenager and admitted people-pleaser, but dang. Her family behaved really badly. Having to read Misty bend over backwards to apologize for, if not outright defend, them was neither fun nor entertaining.

And for some reason, that dimmed my enthusiasm for her determination to be a role model, so to speak, for other black and brown girls. Just the glaring lack of self-awareness between her “well, Cindy must have done it primarily for herself, not me” and her “I’m doing this primarily for others, not myself” when it seems perfectly clear that they both wanted the same thing… I dunno. It’s not as bad as your average memoir written by a 30-something American woman, but it falls far short of where it needs to be in terms of introspection and maturity.

Which isn’t to say that the book is at all juvenile! Misty Copeland is a truly inspirational figure, and I absolutely agree with her belief that circumstances shouldn’t deter people from working towards their dreams. I’d absolutely snap up a book she wrote at the end of a hopefully long and lauded career, when she and I are both decrepit old people who’ve had time to look back over our lives and reflect. That said, I can see the point of having this book come out now, to encourage young (and hey, even not-so-young) people to follow their dreams, but I honestly don’t think she’s had enough distance from the controversies of her upbringing to really tease through all the emotional fallout and give us a clear picture of herself and her place in the world. So I’m torn. The book is good enough for what it set out to do, but it could be so much more. Here’s hoping we get a better version fifty or so years from now!

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