Misty Copeland is American Ballet Theatre’s first black female principal dancer

Misty Copeland attends the American Theatre Wing's 69th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, June 7, 2015, in New York City. (Photo via ABC News)

A dream became reality today for ballerina Misty Copeland as she became the first black female principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.

It is one of the highest honors for a performer.

“I’m just so honored, so extremely honored,” Copeland said today during a news conference. “My dream has been ABT [American Ballet Theatre] since I was 13. … Now I feel like I can breathe.”

Copeland, 32, calls herself an “unlikely ballerina.” She was born in Missouri and grew up in poverty in the Los Angeles area with her five siblings and single mother. She never had the traditional classical ballet training that begins in childhood. Instead, Copeland began dancing in gym socks on a basketball court at age 13, when an instructor took notice and encouraged her to seek formal training.

Fans heard the ballet powerhouse’s story when she appear in an Under Armour sportswear ad as a narrator in which she read a typical rejection letter she had received.

In August 2014, she shared with ABC News some of the negative comments she’d encountered.

“I’m black. We [blacks] don’t exist in the ballet world. I’m too muscular. I’m too short. My bust is too big,” she said then.

But Copeland said she never let those insults sway her.

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Within two years of starting ballet, Copeland was winning dance competitions. Just four years after that first class, she landed a spot with the American Ballet Theatre, one of the most prestigious companies in the world.

“It’s just been a very long road,” Copeland said today. “It has not been an overnight sensation, not at all. It’s been 13, 14 years of extremely hard work.”

In 2007, Copeland made history by becoming the third black female soloist at the American Ballet Theatre. In 2014, she released a memoir titled “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.”

Time magazine put Copeland on its cover this year, but many wondered whether Copeland, a soloist at ABT for eight years, would ever make the leap to principal dancer.

On June 24, Copeland made her New York debut in the role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” at the Metropolitan Opera House. She said today that her path to becoming a principal ballerina had been a long one but it was just the beginning.

“I’m just excited to continue to do the roles that I’ve gotten to do this season — and do more — and to continue to grow as an artist and hopefully see more brown dancers come into the company in my lifetime,” she said.

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