“I think that being African American has definitely been a huge obstacle for me,” Misty Copeland explained in a conversation with President Barrack Obama and Time reporter Maya Rhodan earlier this year. “But it’s also allowed me to have this fire inside of me that I don’t know if I would have or have had if I weren’t in this field.”

Copeland was referencing her experience as one of a small but fortunately growing group of African American women who are breaking barriers in the traditionally lily-white realm of classical ballet. As the first black female principal dancer in American Ballet Theater history, she’s actively shining a spotlight on the lack of diversity in her field and encouraging younger dancers to challenge the status quo along with her.

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