In 'Bunheads,' Misty Copeland Celebrates Ballet's Beautiful Friendships Copeland hopes her book will help young dancers feel comfortable in the studio and on the stage. She says illustrator Setor Fiadzigbey channeled "superhero energy" into dancers leaping off the page.

Misty Copeland Celebrates Ballet's Beautiful Friendships In 'Bunheads'

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Misty Copeland is a prima ballerina and a bestselling author. Her 2014 book, "Firebird," won a Coretta Scott King Award. And her new children's book is called "Bunheads," which is also a term for a ballet dancer.

MISTY COPELAND: "Bunheads" is a story of a group of young dancers in a ballet studio that come from all different walks of life. They have different backgrounds, different body types, different skin color, different hair color, different ethnicities.

MCCAMMON: Copeland based the book on her own life. In "Bunheads," a young girl named Misty dances the ballet "Coppelia." It's the story of a young toymaker who devises a villainous plan to bring a doll to life.

COPELAND: It's fun. It's funny. There's, you know, a small, kind of delicate romance. You know, it's nothing crazy or overly passionate. I just thought it was a fun story that had a lot of color, a lot of costume changes, a lot of scene changes. And not only was it one of the first ballets I did when I was starting out as a young girl in school; it was also one of the first big principal roles I did with American Ballet Theatre as an adult.


MCCAMMON: "Bunheads" was illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey, who sketches a lot of superheroes and athletes but had never drawn dancers before.

SETOR FIADZIGBEY: No. No. I was fresh out of the water when it comes to dancing and ballet and the "Coppelia" play. That was obviously part of my research. I had to do a bit of research on the play to be able to visualize it and then draw it.

COPELAND: When I saw Setor's illustrations and art, though none of them were ballet dancers, they were superheroes. And I think to myself, dancers are superheroes. And for you to be able to bring that energy, you know, through the page and off the page, I knew you'd be able to do it with a dancer.

FIADZIGBEY: I think you answered one of the questions I've had for a while, which is, how did you pick me? But thanks to all the YouTube videos and the Google image searches and - that's the good thing about this, too. Ballet is quite specific. So getting many different dancers doing the exact same thing does give you a sense of what the movement should look like.

COPELAND: I'm blown away by that, by the way - the way that you captured and understood body proportion, the footwork and the line of the body and legs. And, you know, I've worked with different illustrators, and there's often, you know, back and forth. And I'll often take pictures of myself doing poses so they can really get an idea. And I think everyone involved, you know, with kind of coordinating between us was shocked whenever I wouldn't have any notes (laughter). And they're like, are you sure you looked at it? I'm like, I did. It's perfect.

FIADZIGBEY: I started the process by doing quite a number of sketches of a younger version of Misty in certain key moments in the story that I thought were vital to the general look and feel. And I decided to go with a pretty warm palette in the beginning and then have a climax, which is Misty onstage with a bit of a cooler temperature to it.

I've always been in love with sketches - with the kind of energy that you find in sketches versus very finished final work. Since we're also dealing with something like dancing, I thought that it was important to have that energy. And so I didn't really clean up a lot of the sketches. I rather decided to paint on top of the sketches.

COPELAND: It definitely mirrors the journey of a dancer and an artist. We're layering on experience and information and preparation to get to the final product, so I love that. And I think also one of the reasons that I was drawn to your work was that I wanted it to be something different, you know? It's not often really shown in a true way as to what a dancer's body looks like.

FIADZIGBEY: I know that, for me, my idea of ballet and dancers was completely shattered. When I started to dig and I started to go deeper, I realized that sometimes you guys would actually have to almost defy body mechanics, if that makes sense. You know, like, instead of - if you lift one leg, your hip naturally compensates, but you're not supposed to do that. You know, things like that - you guys are really superheroes.



COPELAND: I feel like having a book like this would've maybe made me feel more accepting and comfortable with my body and being an athlete, and I don't think that's something that's often talked about either - is seeing all of the athletic feats. And, you know, I think about one image in particular, Setor, that you made, and it's when you were doing the rond de jambe en l'air. And you see the steps in her leg kind of making the big circles through the air, and I think that's such a physical and athletic movement but yet so graceful in the way you captured it. I think it's important for, you know, kids to see ballet in that way. I definitely think that, you know, seeing this book at a young age and seeing diversity on the page would've been a really positive thing to experience.


MCCAMMON: That was illustrator Setor Fiadzigbey and author and prima ballerina Misty Copeland talking about their new children's book "Bunheads."


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