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Misty Copeland - Essence Cover - Lead
Credit: Dennis Leupold/ESSENCE

Where do we even start when it comes to Misty Copeland’s totally on-pointe pose for the September issue of Essence? This month, America’s favorite ballerina strikes a fierce pose for the magazine (can your leg go that high?) further convincing us that she is a barrier-busting force to be reckoned with.

Just last month, the 32-year-old Copeland was named the American Ballet Theater’s first-ever African-American principal dancer in the company’s 75-year existence. Not long after, she appeared on Broadway’s On the Town, was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People, and became a New York Times best-selling author. But did she always know this level of success was in the cards for her?

“I never knew it was going to get to this level," she tells the magazine, on newsstands August 14. "There are a lot of times when I wish it wasn’t so much. But I wanted this type of exposure for the dance community. I wanted it to be an opportunity for me to educate people and get them to become ballet fans and to educate them on what it means to be a Black dancer—a Black ballet dancer.”

Standing at just five-foot-two, Copeland is shorter than most ballerinas and she didn't start training until age 13—facts many say make her a dance prodigy. Also standing in her way was “the race problem” that Copeland says exists in ballet, though she never let it stop her. “Now that I’m in this position, I’m not going to say ‘I’m just a dancer,’" she says. "It’s a huge deal because I am a Black woman. That’s why it’s a big deal.”

For more of Copeland's conversation with Essence, pick up the magazine's September issue, on newsstands August 14.