Misty Copeland – Principal Dancer

MISTY COPELANDWhen Misty Copeland was named principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre this week, her achievement was noted because she is the First African-American Woman to hold this position. Of course she was already known in the ballet world as she worked her way up to this recognition, but her fame has extended beyond the sphere of classical dance.

Misty Copeland did not begin dancing until she was a young teenager. In spite of being told that it was too late for her to become a ballerina, she trained and progressed rapidly. She was en pointe within a few months and within two years she placed first in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards. That award provided offers from the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theater of Harlem and Pacific Northwest Ballet for places in their summer workshops. She selected San Francisco Ballet, but would later study in the Summer Intensive Program at American Ballet Theatre. ABT then offered her (and five others out of 150) a place in their junior dance troupe.

In the last decade Misty Copeland has been visible internationally and in mass media. In 2009 she appeared in a performance at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The ABT engagement was the first by an American ballet company at the new Chinese arts center. In 2011 Misty was selected as one of 37 Boundary-breaking black women in entertainment by Essence magazine. By 2015 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (in the world). She was also profiled within the last year on “60 Minutes.”

She has brought new audience members to ballet, perhaps because she dances across the gaps between classical and popular tastes. The same year she danced in Beijing, she danced on a piano top for a Prince video. Although she idolized the Argentine principal ballerina Paloma Herrera after seeing her dance, she did not abandon her earlier admiration for the music of Mariah Carey.

Her influence might be likened to Brandi Chastain. Not many people paid attention to women’s soccer until the 1999 World Cup. Few forget the moment after USA won the cup and Brandi Chastain removed her shirt as if saying, “Here I am world. This is the power of a woman’s body.” Misty Underwood conveyed the same message last year when she danced in her Under Armour for a commercial as part of their “I Will What I Want” campaign. The ad had four million views within one week.

During the ad a young girl reads the rejection letter received by Misty Copeland when she started dancing. We can admire the strong body she developed but also the persistence that marks her character. She provides inspiration to women of all ages.

First Women at the Tonys

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 11.50.48 AMActor and playwright Lisa Kron and composer and arranger Jeanine Tesori have both earned many awards from even more nominations. Kron’s list of awards includes three Obies and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Tesori, the most prolific woman composer on Broadway, has won Drama Desk Awards, and received four Tony nominations.

Each is formidable in her own right, but this past Monday, together, they achieved a first. They were the First Women to win a Tony Award as an all-female writing team, for the book and music for Fun Home. It has been 24 years since two women were even considered. In 1991 Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman were nominated for the musical adaption of The Secret Garden. Only two years ago, in 2013, Cyndi Lauper won a Tony for the music and lyrics for Kinky Boots, becoming the First Woman to win Best Score without a male collaborator.

Fun Home also claims a first, the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. The show is a testament to perseverance. It took Alison Bechdel seven years to create the autobiographical graphic novel on which the book is based. Then it took five years for Kron and Tesori to develop the book and music. The musical played in lab and off-Broadway, winning awards even before making it to Broadway.

Fun Home is the story of a young woman exploring her sexuality, while her own father explores his. Beth Malone, who plays Alison Bechdel in the musical was nominated for a Tony as Leading Actress in a Musical and Judy Kuhn, who plays Alison’s mother, was nominated for a Tony as an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

The musical won an Obie, a Drama Critics’ Circle Award and a Tony for Best Musical. It was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

 

Dramatic Aside (a “Curious” and “Fun” Question): In 2015 the Tony for Best Musical (Fun Home) and the Tony for Best Play (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) were both for works based on literature. I wonder how often that happens?

 

Kerrie Orozco, Police Officer

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photo from Omaha.com

Some firsts by women cannot be celebrated. Last Wednesday Kerrie Orozco was the first female police officer in Omaha, Nebraska to die in the line of duty. She was shot when she and another officer attempted to arrest a felon.

Kerrie Orozco was a friend to many children. She coached baseball at an Omaha Boys and Girls Club. Whenever she saw a child playing ball in the street, she would stop and talk to the child. “Why don’t you come play ball at the Boys and Girls Club?” she would ask. Participation in sports with other children was her way of keeping young people off the street and involved in their community. Kerrie Orozco was also a Special Olympics volunteer.

She had two-step children (Natalia, 8, and Santiago, 6) but she and her husband, Hector Orozco Lopez, had given birth to their first child together only last February. Unfortunately, the girl was premature and had been in the hospital ever since. Orozco had arranged a maternity leave beginning the day her daughter came home. That leave was to start the day after she was shot and died.

We all mourn the sacrifice of this brave woman. We also acknowledge the unwitting and unknown sacrifice of her daughter who will grow up without her. Being a First Woman can be difficult, but few women must give their lives to be first.

May blessings fall on Kerrie Orozco’s family, on all her friends, and on all the children who were graced with her attention and caring, as they try to make sense of senselessness.

First Women on Jeopardy

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 4.45.02 PMLast week, on Jeopardy, there was a category called Female Firsts. I didn’t record the full text of the questions, but I thought it might be fun to quiz the readers of this blog on the women included, but in a different format.

 

Match the descriptions below (a through e) with the names (1 to 5). Answers appear at the bottom.

a. First Woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby

b. First Woman to receive a Pulitzer in history (for Reveille in Washington, 1942)

c. First Woman to receive a bronze star

d. First Woman to receive the Fields Medal in Mathematics (hint: She was the subject of a post on this blog.)

e. First Woman to be Speaker of the House of Commons in England

  1. Betty Booothroyd
  2. Cordelia Cork
  3. Diane Crump
  4. Margaret Leech
  5. Miryam Mirzakhan

 

Answers: a-3; b-4; c-2; d-5; e-1

It’s “Official”

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Sarah Thomas is the First Woman to be a fulltime game official in the NFL. It was announced today that she will hold the position of line judge.

Sarah has been a First Woman before. She was the First Woman to officiate an NCAA football game, First Woman to officiate a college bowl game, and First Woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium. She qualified for a permanent position in the NFL in 2013 and has been working exhibition games and other events for then NFL since then.

Sarah’s love of football is natural. She was born in Mississippi where football is a second religion. (I can attest to this fact as I was raised in Mississippi as well.)

When she began officiating, a mentor suggested she work harder to fit in, thinking it might not be helpful for her to call attention to herself. He suggested she put her ponytail up under her hat and not wear makeup. She met him halfway and now wears her ponytail tucked into her cap. Like most of the Mississippi women I know, however, she will not be seen in public without makeup.