Misty Copeland Launches Girls Program, Scholarship in Rwanda

Misty Copeland with a student from the MindLeaps Girls Program in Rwanda. Courtesy MindLeaps.

As someone who experienced poverty as a child, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland has since become a powerful advocate for disadvantaged youth. And she recently found a new platform to help give back. Last week, she returned home from Kigali, Rwanda after working with the humanitarian nonprofit MindLeaps, which serves some of the city's poorest children, many of whom are homeless and lack access to school.

MindLeaps uses dance classes to improve the children's cognitive development and prepare them for more structured learning environments. Eventually it adds classes in English and IT to prepare them for either boarding school or the workplace. Until now, the program has only been available to boys. Copeland arrived to officially launch the MindLeaps Girls Program, and to award a top dance student the Misty Copeland Scholarship to go to boarding school.

Copeland admits that the level of poverty she witnessed was eye-opening. “Kids literally live on the street!" she told Pointe over email. “Dance is giving them hope, a goal, a real escape. They are connecting their memory, using their brain for physical coordination, using their words to describe what they're doing and creating."

Copeland kept a video blog to document her experience, which included meeting the girls and leading them through a basic ballet class, as well as visiting mass graves from Rwanda's 1994 Tutsi genocide. In this video, a young boy, Ali, shows her the concrete tunnel under the street where he sleeps at night. Watching his reaction when she later offers to sponsor him to attend boarding school is priceless.

MindLeaps is currently raising funds for the Misty Copeland Scholarship and Girls Program through the International Artists Fund. “Dance sets you up for life in the most beautiful way," she says, “and my time at MindLeaps was the most extreme truth of that."

Ballet Careers
Lenai Alexis Wilkerson. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Lenai Alexis Wilkerson graduated from University of Southern California with a BFA in dance (dance performance concentration) and a political science minor in 2019.

As Lenai Alexis Wilkerson looked at colleges, she wanted a school that would prepare her for two totally different professions: dancing and law. "I knew, pretty much when I was 16, that I wanted to go to law school," she says. "So I wanted the opportunity to have a dual college experience, where I could have a conservatory training style within a university and I could focus equally on my academics." When she auditioned for the inaugural class of University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she knew it was the right fit.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Nicolas Pelletier in Carmina Burana. Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Last week, Colorado Ballet interrupted Nutcracker rehearsals for an exciting announcement: Four dancers were being promoted. Though all made the jump from the company's corps de ballet, Nicolas Pelletier ascended directly to the rank of soloist, while Sean Omandam, Emily Speed and Melissa Zoebisch were promoted to demi-soloist. This news comes hot on the heels of last August's promotion of Francisco Estevez to principal.

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

Keep reading... Show less