By Catharine Lewis
Not many people can say that they’ve been able to meet their idol, nor can many young and aspiring dancers admit to having seen their favorite performer up close and personal. Yet, on the weekend of March 13, 2015, at Ballet in Cleveland’s second annual gala, I was afforded this very opportunity. My dream of meeting Misty Copeland came true.
Honored would be the one word that could even attempt to come close to capturing my feelings that weekend. To be able to sit fifteen feet away from Misty Copeland while she performed onstage in my hometown was and still is beyond my comprehension and imagination. Being able to stand next to this beautiful and inspiring woman, who has since graced the cover of TIME, whether we were taking a photograph or hugging before her departure, has truly been an experience that I will never forget. When the hectic Gala weekend concluded, I can honestly admit that I cried my eyes out and I know that I am not alone in that fact because many others shared in my thankfulness.
From the start, my family and I have had a very close tie to Ballet in Cleveland, primarily because its founding director, Ms. Jessica Wallis, was my ballet teacher at Martell School of Dance for eight years of my life. Jessica has been a role model, friend, and mentor to me ever since those days in the studio. My mother, Ms. Elizabeth Lewis, is on the executive board of directors for Ballet in Cleveland, working hard to further the company’s wonderful mission in Cleveland and beyond. I say all of this simply because I am so thankful and so proud of what Ballet in Cleveland was able to accomplish that weekend. The Gala, which kicked-off the weekend and was held at the Tudor Arms Hotel, began with a welcoming and honoring of Misty Copeland, who was then given the microphone to speak briefly as well. Hearing Misty speak and knowing all that she has done to break down barriers in the classical ballet world, I couldn’t help but break into tears. To look across the room and see my mom crying too, was an unforgettable moment for the two of us.
Many of you who are likely to read this don’t know me, but I am currently a Special Education and Dance Education student at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. My ultimate goal is to begin a dance outreach after school program for at-risk children. This past semester, I was able to assist my academic advisor, Ms. Nicole Flynn, with a Math and Motion program at our local Boys and Girls Club. I’ve always had a passion for teaching dance. I desire to bring dance to students who might not otherwise have the chance to experience it. Because of this, Misty has been someone whom I’ve ceaselessly admired. Misty is amazing in all that she does because she has continued to remain humble and give back, never forgetting her roots and where she has come from.
One of the other things that I love about Misty Copeland is the fact that she isn’t your typical ballerina in terms of body type. Misty, at 5’2″, is my height, and she’s extremely flexible. I think her body is beautiful, but there are many in the dance world who might disagree. In this light, Misty is breaking down even more barriers that plague the dance world. Seeing that Misty has made it inspires me to love myself and the body that I’ve been blessed with. Muscularity and other traits that define us as women should be celebrated and every body type should be valued when it comes to dance. I’ve come to recognize that my body offers me different strengths than my peers and I’m learning to better appreciate this because of Misty.
All in all, I could easily prattle on forever about my experience meeting Misty Copeland, but no words could do my feelings justice. I witnessed many amazing things that weekend, including wondrous technical feats, but the best part of my experience was much more personal and had to deal with the emotional side of dance.
As I attended and assisted with a variety of events throughout the weekend, I saw young dancers shaking and in tears because they couldn’t believe they were meeting Misty Copeland. I saw children from the Cleveland-area Boys and Girls Club rocking out on the dance floor at the Gala. I saw a young man lift Misty Copeland in a pas de deux class and most of all, I witnessed a truly awesome individual inspiring hundreds, including myself. In that moment, I realized, that at 22 years of age, I could still feel like a child who was meeting their hero, their idol, and feeling the magic of life. Thank you to my amazing mother, who has always stood by my side and ceaselessly supported my love of dance. Thank you to Miss Wallis, who has nurtured my teaching and dancing skills and given me my dream, and thank you to Misty, who has inspired me to never give up. You are all amazing and I am truly blessed beyond words. I love you all!
Catharine Lewis will join the staff of the Allison DeBona & Ballet in Cleveland artÉmotion Summer Intensive in its inaugural year, Summer 2015.