Misty Copeland puts a 21st-century twist on history's famous ballet works.

Ballerina Misty Copeland is no stranger to making history on the stage.


All images by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory from the NYC Dance Project, used with permission.


Just last summer, she became the first black woman to become a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. It was a proud and empowering moment for people everywhere (and about time!).

Now, she's re-creating history for the camera.


Copeland re-creating Degas' "The Star."

In the upcoming March 2016 issue of Harper's Bazaar, she's helped re-create some of the world's most iconic ballet paintings and sculptures by famous artist Edgar Degas.

The spread comes in advance of a new exhibition opening up at New York's Museum of Modern Art that highlight Degas' work called "Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty."

The photos are beautiful and impressively spot-on. But they also come with a deeper meaning: The faces of ballet are changing.

Copeland as Degas' "Dancer."

Degas' focus on dancers helped him create some of the most popular images in 19th-century art. Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, the project's photographers and founders of the NYC Dance Project, wanted to bring them into the 21st century.

"It wasn’t so much us trying to reproduce Degas' paintings as it was to bring Misty into them, and to bring the ballet community up-to-date," Ken told Upworthy.

"We’re seeing all body types, all types of people: black, white, Asian, you name it. We’re seeing everything. It's time that gets reflected."


Copeland as "Swaying Dancer (Dancer in Green)."

Photographing Misty as if she were in a Degas painting shows the world that ballet doesn't have a specific race or ethnicity.

You don't need me to tell you that the industry has been overwhelmingly white throughout history.

Just picture a traditional ballerina in your head, and you'll recognize that truth. Even though the times have changed, though, it's still been difficult to find images of dancers that represent the variety of shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds they actually come in.

That's one of the reasons Ken and Deborah started the NYC Dance Project: to show and celebrate the dancers of today.

"A few years ago, our younger daughter wanted to have her room redecorated and wanted to have her favorite dancers hanging up, and we had a hard time finding photographs of them," Deborah recalled over the phone. "There wasn’t that much of the current stars out there. Ken was like, 'Let’s just photograph them ourselves.'"

With that, the NYC Dance Project was born. A study of dance and movement in photographic form, their work has gained quite a following in just a few years, with a book expected to drop this fall.

"I definitely feel like I can see myself in that sculpture — she just seems content but also reserved," Copeland said about re-creating Degas' "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen."


One of the keys to their success may be where they photograph most of their subjects: in their living room in Brooklyn. It creates a more comfortable and intimate atmosphere, though Deborah noted, "sometimes we are literally moving our cats out of the photo."

Together, they're part of a larger push to move diversity in dance forward. Because not only does a broader mix of people help to show more girls and boys that they do have a place in the industry — combating the phenomenon that you can't be what you can't see — it's financially smart too.

More diverse dance companies create bigger, more diverse audiences. And you know what that means? Cha-ching.

Like Ken and Deborah, Copeland knows that the ballet world has a long way to go, but that this is a good start.

She's shattering the glass ceiling, pointe shoes and all, but she knows it's not just about her.

Real talk on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert"/YouTube.

There's so much talent and untapped potential out there. Someday we'll get to a place where people of all races and ethnicities see opportunities to succeed in the world of ballet and in many other stereotyped professions.

In the meantime, it's encouraging to see those leading the way into the future on the stage, behind the camera, with a paintbrush, or with their words.

Check out this behind-the-scenes look at how they channeled Edgar Degas' work for Harper's Bazaar. They nailed it.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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