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Misty Copeland, the unlikely prima ballerina

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside acknowledge the audience

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside acknowledge the audience after appearing in "Swan Lake" at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, June 24, 2015. Credit: AP / Gene Schiavone / ABT

Somewhere, in a small dance studio this week, a little ballerina stood on her tiptoes, held up her arms and tried to follow her dance teacher's steps, while dreaming of a far bigger stage. Somewhere, other children or teens might be imagining bright futures, too, as they experiment in a kitchen-turned-chemistry lab, construct a city out of Legos, sing on a makeshift bedroom stage with a hairbrush as a microphone, or kick a soccer ball in the backyard.

If they don't know the story of Misty Copeland, they should. This week, Copeland became the first African-American principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre, one of the nation's premier dance companies.

But her story is so much more than that.

Copeland didn't start as a typical little girl in a pink tutu on a recital stage. She grew up poor, moved around a lot and even lived in a California motel when her mother couldn't make ends meet.

She didn't start dancing until she was 13 -- at a Boys & Girls Club. Her mom didn't drive her to dance lessons or do her hair or makeup for competitions. Indeed, at one point, she sought emancipation from her mother so she could keep dancing.

Copeland also didn't have the lean and lanky body type that many ballet companies want. But she had terrific feet and flexibility, great passion and talent, and teachers and mentors to guide her.

This isn't just about the first African-American prima ballerina at a top dance company -- although that alone is worth a standing ovation.

Misty Copeland smashed through many barriers and overcame many challenges. Her success reminds children and adults that it's not about race, culture, age, body type or money.

The message is simple: Nothing has to stand in the way of someone who works hard, has talent and embraces a passion. Copeland shows every young boy or girl with dreams and talent that all barriers are breakable and anything's possible.

Really, that's a lesson for all of us. Copeland deserves applause for showing just how it's done.