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Black ballerina is first to lead prestigious US ballet group

GRACEFUL: Misty Copeland has become a breakout star for ballet

A PRESTIGIOUS American ballet company will have a black principal dancer for the first time in its 75-year history.

The American Ballet Theatre has named Misty Copeland, 32, its principal dancer - the first time a black ballerina has held the prestigious role.

Copeland made her debut this month, starring in Swan Lake in New York, one of the most coveted roles in ballet, reported the BBC.

In recent years, Copeland has found fame outside of the ballet world.

She has appeared in commercials and TV shows and wrote a best-selling memoir.

"We haven't had a ballet dancer who has broken through to popular culture like this since Mikhail Baryshnikov," said Wendy Perron, an author and former editor of Dance Magazine.

The American Ballet Theatre announced the news on Tuesday (Jun 30) in a slew of promotions at one of the country's top ballet companies. Stella Abrera, a 19-year veteran of the company, was promoted from soloist to the rank of principal dancer.

PROMOTED: Misty Copeland

The moment of Copeland's promotion was captured on video and shared on Instagram.

"Misty, take a bow," said Kevin McKenzie, the company's artistic director, as the ballerina fought back tears.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in San Pedro, California, Copeland began dance training at the relatively late age of 13 at the San Pedro City Ballet.

She studied at the Lauridsen Ballet Centre, San Francisco Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre's Summer Intensive on a full scholarship.

She joined the main company as a member of the corps de ballet in April 2001 and was appointed a soloist in August 2007.

The dancer has also appeared in a Diet Dr Pepper commercial and danced with Prince on his 2010 tour.

"My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company," she wrote in her 2014 memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. "That if I don't rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them."

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