Photography by Greg Autry*
On December Twenty-First, 2015.
I woke up very early, no alarm, as I was really excited to cover a Master Ballet Class, to be taught by no less than Prima Ballerina, Misty Copeland! Taking a break from writing my book about artist Julian Ritter, I drove from Las Vegas Monday morning, to cover the event in San Pedro, California, that afternoon.
I was excited because I love dancers. I love to draw and paint them because they know their bodies so well and they can hold amazing poses. I love to explore light, and color, as they move. The “lines” and “shapes” of their arms, legs, and bodies create amazing compositions in photographs. The opportunity to photograph Misty I must confess, would allow me to half, check off one item from my ‘Bucket List’.
That afternoon there was a scheduled event to honor Misty, with the dedication of the Misty Copeland Square, at the intersection adjacent to the San Pedro Ballet School in San Pedro. Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents San Pedro, was there. A new mural with four paintings of Misty by artist Kelcey Fisher was unveiled, along with over eighty dancers from San Pedro Ballet. There were the formalities of dedications, the requisite politicians, a variety of plaques, speeches, and smiles by all.
In the crowd I admired a dapper gentleman with a very fine tie, and we started talking. The gentleman’s name was Irvin Vodovoz, father to Cindy Bradley. Cindy and her husband Patrick are the owners of the San Pedro Ballet School which was the home school of Misty Copeland when she began her career as a youngster. Irvin told me a heartfelt story of how his daughter Cindy first met Misty at the local Boys and Girls Club and recognized her abilities almost right away. Through the Outreach Program at San Pedro Ballet, Misty was provided a scholarship and the rest as they say, is history.
I could tell it was an emotional remembrance for Mr. Vodovoz, as he recalled that Misty stayed with “them” during the week, going `home’ on the weekends. He told me how Misty had come to them at thirteen, and within three months of classes she was on her toes. Irvin told me that Misty (13) slept in a bunk bed with his Grandson Wolf (3). `They were like brother and sister and it was really hard on Wolf when Misty left,’ Irvin recounted.
Wolf Bradley came onto the stage, he and Misty reunited, hugging, and smiling. Wolf then performed `Wait for Me,’ which he composed for Misty and for the dedication, as Misty watched by his side. Dancing along to Wolf’s rendition of `Wait For Me,’ were the eighty young dancers from the school. It was quite touching and I could see a glimmer of a tear in Irvin’s eyes.
After the dedication of Misty’s Square, the second half of the day would be held a few blocks away, in downtown San Pedro, at the Warner Grand Theatre. Misty Copeland would be teaching the `Master Ballet Class’ of around fifty dancers from local schools, and from as far away as Florida. Ages ranged from eight to seventeen. The theatre was packed including the upstairs balcony.
The proceeds from the Master Class went to the San Pedro City Ballet Outreach Program. Irvin told me this is the program and the place that gave Misty Copeland her opportunity and her start. The San Pedro City Ballet’s DanceEd program offers opportunity for low-income and homeless students to learn dance and participate in community. Anyone wishing to help or to learn more can donate to the program via GoFundMe. This is the same program that allowed Misty to participate in dance when was 13. The program at the Warner Grand would raise an approximate Seventy-Five Thousand Dollars for the program.
Entering the theatre I went to the balcony to get an overview. Most of the dancers had come onto the stage and were stretching and warming up. I could see they were all nervous, some looked downright scared.
Patrick and Cindy Bradley came to the microphones, and then introduced Misty. As she came out she was dressed in a loose Tee, dance pants, and of course ballet shoes. Gazing at the dancer’s faces and I saw emotions ranging from excitement to trepidation.
Misty acknowledged the uniqueness of a ballet class with such a large audience, and that they had no mirrors (which the dancers would normally look at themselves with.)
The next hour-and-a-half was magical. Misty spent all of her time talking with the dancers, watching them as they went through steps gauging weaknesses and strengths. She was never harshly critical, only offering support and suggestion on how to be better and often demonstrating.
I noticed her patience, and her intuitive nature. She walked through the class stopping to work with individuals, pointing out that the difference between average and professional was in the very basics of dance, and in the little things.
She took time with different dancers to show them precisely how their foot must be positioned for different steps, how to use their arms, noting “there are no straight arms in ballet.” She cautioned about not arching or bending backwards too much, and made suggestions about how to move the head.
Misty emphasized basics and precision, and teaching the muscles to move reflexively as opposed to physically. She implored the dancers to let their bodies `sing with the music.’
I was enthralled and I was sure the class would be an unforgettable experience for these dancers. Misty Copeland is beautiful, has a magnificent body that is strong, sleek, powerful, and exquisitely feminine. She is an amazing athlete and artist.
Misty exemplified a woman who is strong, confident, and a woman who is in her power. That is a beautiful example for all youngsters to follow and to learn from!
`Christina’ is a fourteen year old dancer, in advanced ballet classes, and has been dancing for eleven years. She confirmed being `nervous inside’ as the class began. `There was excitement, and dancers were trying to show off their strengths by lifting their legs to their ears.’ Christina remembered Misty saying, ‘Something as small as the way you move your head can be what separates a soloist from a principal dancer.’ Christina said her favorite part of the class was when she realized that Misty was a “regular person.”
Only the very few can ever attain such magnificence as has Misty Copeland. Misty sent a text message after the class to Cindy Bradley, “It was a Magical Day,” which Cindy shared with me. When creativity is inspired and supported, it manifest throughout life. Every one of those dancers on the stage at the Warner Grand, will remember that day for the rest of their lives, and will benefit from things they learned.
Every kid given the opportunity to participate, whether it be a Master Class, or classes at the school, benefit in so many areas of their lives. I commend Cindy and Patrick Bradley for their untiring work and efforts to promote the outreach program at the San Pedro Ballet School and offering opportunities throughout the community.
It only took Misty Copeland twenty years to become an overnight success. She was a Prodigy at Thirteen. She is a phenomenon. Everything she did on stage this day, even the` littlest thing,’ was on `pointe’ and exacting. When she demonstrated moves and position for the class, she exemplified the preciseness to which she spoke. When she moved, the class and the audience were mesmerized. She brought greatness home, as Christina said, simply by being a “regular person.”
When I spoke to Cindy Bradley she told me how shy Misty was when she first started. She was sixty-five pounds, four-foot ten and thirteen years old. `She could hold position, and when I touched her I knew she would be able to do anything if she would do the work.’ She did the work and she learned very quickly. Cindy home schooled Misty, took her to dance classes, and provided a home base for which she could excel. All Children deserve that level of support and love.
When Misty saw Paloma Herrera perform, her goal became to perform for the American Ballet Theater. After graduating San Pedro High School at Seventeen Misty was offered an apprenticeship at ABT and she left home for New York.
Misty Copeland is now a Principal Dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in New York City. Cindy, Patrick, and Wolf, were all happy to have Misty “home.” `It was her first time home,’ Cindy told me. No one was more delighted to have Misty home, than Irvin Vodovoz, Misty’s pseudo Grandpa. With tears in his eyes as he watched Misty on the stage, love was never more heartfelt.
Misty Copeland came home that day, and fell into the hearts that love her.
Follow Greg Autry: @GregAutry3
Follow Misty Copeland: @MistyonPointe
Follow San Pedro City Ballet: @SPCityBallet
Follow Councilman Joe Buscaino: @JoeBuscaino
* ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT 2015 GREG AUTRY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED FOR VIEWING ONLY