National Press Club

Misty Copeland protests National Endowment for the Arts elimination under Trump

April 17, 2017 | By Jesse Rifkin |

American Ballet Theater Principal Dancer Misty Copeland with National Press Club President Jeff Ballou at the club on April 17

American Ballet Theater Principal Dancer Misty Copeland with National Press Club President Jeff Ballou at the club on April 17

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Arts funding by taxpayers and the federal government should be maintained in the face of defunding threats, American Ballet Theater Principal Dancer Misty Copeland said Monday at the National Press Club.

“Of course I’m not happy,” Copeland lamented in criticizing the Trump administration’s proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). “Right now is an even more important time for artists to have a voice, and to stand up for what’s right for this country.”

Copeland compared the NEA’s funding for arts funding and education in schools to the charity MindLeaps, with which she travelled to Rwanda in 2015.

“These street children in Africa who are illiterate, have maybe never grown up in a home or with a parent, this program is bringing these kids off the street. The first thing they teach them is dance. It awakens something in them. Just to be able to start the process of a child learning in that order I think is so beneficial,” Copeland said. “This is a no-brainer. We need the arts in our schools.”

Promoting her new book Ballerina Body: Dancing and Eating Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Graceful You, Copeland was interviewed by National Press Club President Jeff Ballou of Al Jazeera English. Co-authored by Charisse Jones, the book contains advice on food and nutrition, fitness and workouts, mental wellness, and other similar health guidance.

“‘Dancers don’t eat, they’re not athletes,’” Copeland said sarcastically, mimicking the stereotypes and insults of her tractors. “It was important for me to give people a real insider look into what it takes to be a dancer and build a dancer’s body.” She mentioned that her dinner the previous night was a homemade pizza with a cauliflower crust, no bread.

Copeland also waded into the political arena recently and drew controversy with her public criticism of Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, a company Copeland endorses. After Plank praised President Trump on CNBC as “pro-business” and making “bold decisions,” Copeland shot back on Instagram about “the importance of diversity and inclusion… It is imperative to me that my partners and sponsors share this belief.”

Claiming her relationship with Plank has recovered, “I’d say we’re probably closer now,” Copeland said Monday. “[Under Armour’s first-of-its-kind endorsement] has given so much attention, recognition, and education to the American people that dancers are athletes, and all that it takes to get there… But it was important for me to get out there and let people know what I believe in. There’s always backlash.”

The Kansas City native grew up poor as one of six children, began dancing at the late age of 13, and rose to become ABT’s principal dancer in 2015. Since, she has attracted sellout crowds starring in Romeo and Juliet, Firebird, and Swan Lake, along the way participating in a joint interview with President Obama for Essence and getting cast as the lead in the upcoming Disney film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.