PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game were people who have exceptional talent do something that makes no use of that talent whatsoever. Ballerina Misty Copeland is one of the greatest dancers performing today in classical ballet. She's a soloist at the American Ballet Theater. And she accomplished all this despite starting ballet at the age of 13. By that age, most kids who dream of dancing have already given it up and resign themselves to a career in public radio.
SAGAL: Misty Copeland, welcome to WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.
MISTY COPELAND: Thank you for having me.
SAGAL: So first of all, is that true, that you were not one of those little girls who was obsessed with the ballet and loved to put on the tutu and such, so on and so forth?
COPELAND: Absolutely not. I had never heard classical music before. I was listening to Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey.
COPELAND: Yeah. I ended up training only for four years before I was accepted into American Ballet Theater in New York City.
SAGAL: That's crazy.
BRIAN BABYLON: She's like the Lebron James of...
BABYLON: ...Ballet a little bit.
SAGAL: Yeah. One of the things about ballet - classical ballet especially - is it's obviously so incredibly strenuous, except - and part of the aesthetic is you have to seem absolutely effortless. So whenever I see a ballet, I always imagine that the people dancing around on their toes are constantly thinking to themselves, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.
SAGAL: Is that true?
COPELAND: On some days.
COPELAND: We do talk on stage to each other and I think some people think, why did I choose this career? Why am I doing this?
SAGAL: Wait a minute. You said you talk to each other on stage?
COPELAND: We do.
SAGAL: What do you say?
COPELAND: The artistic director may not want to hear that, but we have full-on conversations, depending on, you know, how rigorous the part is.
SAGAL: Really? So like...
BABYLON: During the show?
COPELAND: What are you having tonight for dinner? What - you know...
SAGAL: Wait a minute.
COPELAND: You going out to the club?
SAGAL: So you're telling me, like, if I go see "The Nutcracker" and the corp de ballet is back there, and they're doing, like, the sugarplum fairies. They're dancing around on point, and they're saying to each other, so what are you doing tonight? Oh, nothing. What about you? Oh.
BABYLON: And do you have to, like, wait for the person to come back around before you get your answer?
SAGAL: Do you talk to them when you're, like - you're spinning around, and you just get one word out when your facing them? Hey. What. Are. You. Doing. After. The. Show? Depending on how fast you spin.
ROY BLOUNT JR.: And do you talk smack sometimes?
BLOUNT: Let's see you jump with my foot on your shoe. Ha.
BLOUNT: I bet they do that. Oh, I'm going to go to the ballet tomorrow.
BLOUNT: Suddenly, it's come alive for me.
BABYLON: You know, Peter...
COPELAND: I guess that's what makes us professionals.
SAGAL: Yeah, I understand.
BABYLON: I went to my first ballet and I saw "Aladdin" from the Houston Ballet...
BABYLON: ...And I was amazed. And I was like, man, I think these guys could probably beat me up...
BABYLON: ...Because - I mean, are they - how are strong are ballet dancers and ballerinas? I've always...
COPELAND: They are the strongest people, I think, that exist, both mentally, emotionally, physically. And to be able to do all that we do on stage, and for you to think we're just a little sugarplum families prancing around is even more incredible.
SAGAL: Right. I mean - I don't mean to get personal, but looking around on the Internet, your legs are quite the thing.
SAGAL: I mean, it looks like - it looks like...
BLOUNT: You know how to talk pretty to women.
SAGAL: I do. I do.
BABYLON: I was on the Internet, and I was looking at you on the Internet.
SAGAL: No, I'm - seriously and if you...
SAGAL: I mean, there are like...
SAGAL: I'm just saying.
SAGAL: What I was saying...
BABYLON: Quite the thing, both of them.
SAGAL: I'm saying that if you - you know, when your career in the ballet ends - which hopefully won't happen for many years - you can get a job for, like, the NYPD kicking down doors for them.
O'CONNOR: I don't think that's what you're - also what you're supposed to say to a woman.
BABYLON: Yeah, you could kick some doors down, babe. Yeah.
O'CONNOR: With those legs, man.
BABYLON: You know, I've been - since - when I went to that ballet, I found that I've been doing plies myself.
COPELAND: You have been?
BABYLON: Well, the thing is - this is why. I accidentally bought some skinny jeans, and...
BABYLON: Yeah, I actually bought some skinny jeans, and they bunch all up in the man parts and I found a plie is the classiest way to unhinge man parts in skinny jeans.
BABYLON: It's so classy.
SAGAL: So one thing I've always wondered about people like yourself - 'cause I am a terrible dancer - and so whenever I'm at a - you know, like, a party or whatever where there's dancing, I do not dance. I am on the side. You are one of the greatest dancers, well, in the world. So when you're at a party and, like, the dance music starts up, do you say to yourself, now is my time.
COPELAND: Absolutely not.
SAGAL: You're, like, a mutant with superpowers, and yet you won't show your powers.
COPELAND: (Laughing) Kind of.
SAGAL: But don't you...
SAGAL: Come on. Come on. I mean, you must see somebody out there who thinks they're special, who thinks they're, like, doing the moves. And you could say, I could blow these people's minds.
SAGAL: But today, no.
BLOUNT: Can you twerk? I mean, you can twerk, right?
SAGAL: Come on. Come on. You can twerk. Come on.
BLOUNT: Come on.
COPELAND: I get down. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and R&B and soul. I don't know if I've ever twerked.
SAGAL: I think someone would have noticed, Misty. I think...
SAGAL: ...It would've been quite the YouTube sensation, had you done it. Well, Misty Copeland, we're delighted to talk to you. We've asked you here were to play game we're calling...
CARL KASELL, BYLINE: Hey Nonny Nonny!
SAGAL: You are a classical ballerina, but classical ballet is a newfangled upstart compared to Morris dancing, which scholars believe originated one night in the Middle Ages when some guys got really, really drunk.
SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about Morris dancing. Get two right, you'll win our prize.
SAGAL: Carl, who is Misty Copeland playing for?
KASELL: Misty is playing for Barbara Woods of Anacortes, Washington.
SAGAL: Now before we get started, let's establish what Morris dancing is. It is a very old kind of British folk dance. And they put on these costumes with bells, and they dance about in, like, county squares. And they...
BABYLON: Like "Game of Thrones" stuff?
SAGAL: All right. So now that we've established that, here's your first question. As we've said, Morris dancing is ancient. People do like to mix it up. Which of these is a new trend in Morris dancing? A - Hip-hop Morris, in which dancers dance to rap hits from the likes of Jay-Z and Lil' Wayne. B - Goth Morris, in which dances are changed into weird satanic-like rituals. Or C - Morris the cat dancing, in which dancers incorporate licking themselves and coughing up hair balls.
COPELAND: (Laughter) Oh, wow. I feel like A seems the most normal.
SAGAL: Hip-hop Morris?
SAGAL: Actually, no. It's B. It's Goth Morris is the latest thing. Yeah.
COPELAND: I thought Goth went out in the '90s.
SAGAL: No, no, no. They're just getting around to it in England, apparently.
SAGAL: That's OK. You still have two more chances, Misty, so you're going to get this, I'm sure.
COPELAND: Oh, OK. OK.
SAGAL: Now, Morris dancing has spawned all kind of spinoff industries - 'cause it's popular - as in which of these? A - A personal injury lawyer specializing in Morris dancing injury claims, like being hit in the face with a Morris stick. B - No More-iss, an iPhone app that helps you avoid any Morris dancers in your area. Or C - Errol Morris dancing, a form of the dance when you merely stare at the audience and say very little.
COPELAND: (Laughing) I'm going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're going to go with Errol Morris dancing?
COPELAND: It's somebody doing performance art.
SAGAL: Errol - yes. It's like, and tonight, the Errol Morris dancers present "A Fog of War."
SAGAL: The dancing Robert McNamara. So you're going to pick that? You're going to go for - I admire your boldness, Misty Copeland. But I'm just going to ask you to confirm, are you going to pick Errol Morris dancing?
COPELAND: Oh, your - I feel that you're telling me not to.
SAGAL: I see you have the sensitivity and soul of an artist.
COPELAND: (Laughing) A?
SAGAL: A. Yes, it's A.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Apparently, if you're in a Morris dance troupe and you injure yourself, like getting hit with a Morris stick, you could be able to sue your own Morris dance troupe. All right. If you get this last one right...
SAGAL: ...You will win everything. Having been run for a very long time, Morris dancing inspired a number of jokes. Which of these is a classic Morris dancing joke sure to get a laugh in Morris dancing circles? A - Three Morris dancers walk into a bar and immediately get thrown out because everybody hates Morris dance.
SAGAL: B - Why did the Morris dancers cross the road? 'Cause they were being chased by a mob because everybody hates Morris dance.
SAGAL: Or C - Why do Morris dancers wear bells? So they can annoy the blind as well.
COPELAND: Wow. C sounds perfect.
SAGAL: C is in fact the right answer.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: That is the classic Morris dance joke. Carl, how did Misty Copeland do on our quiz?
KASELL: Well, she had enough correct answers to win, Peter. So she is a winner.
SAGAL: Well done, Misty.
SAGAL: Congratulations. You see what I mean?
COPELAND: Yay. Thank you.
SAGAL: This had to be more fun than dancing "Firebird."
SAGAL: Misty Copeland is a soloist with the American Ballet Theater. Her memoir "Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina" is out now. Pick it up. She's amazing. Thank you so much, Misty. Great to talk to you.
SAGAL: Take care.
COPELAND: Thank you.
SAGAL: Bye, bye.
SAGAL: In just a minute, Carl gets surly in the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air.
Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and the Economic Development Authority of Fairfax County, Virginia - home to more than 6,700 technology companies, at PowerofIdeas.org - Esurance, insurance for the modern world - with a video appraisal tool, customers can video chat with a claims adjuster in real time, Esurance.com - and Arizona State University, with more than 60 campus degrees now available 100 percent online, at online.ASU.edu.
We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.