2. A Willful Spirit

Publishing her memoir was among ballerina Misty Copeland's accomplishments in 2014.

Publishing her memoir was among ballerina Misty Copeland’s accomplishments in 2014.

“I Will What I Want” may be the tagline for the Under Armour (UA) commercial featuring Misty Copeland, but it could just as well be the slogan for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) soloist’s amazing climb in the ballet world.

The year 2014 has been a banner one for Copeland. The 32-year-old ballerina has, arguably, made this old, European art form cool in a pop-culture kind of way, and not just among the little-girl set. Take that video advertisement Copeland did for sportswear brand UA this year: It went viral, garnering 7 million views to date.

Copeland could also be 2014’s poster child for breaking barriers in ballet, which is still mostly white. This December, for example, she played the lead in ABT’s “The Nutcracker,” making her the Christmastime classic’s first black “Clara.” Copeland was also the first black woman to play the coveted role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake,” during ABT’s Australian tour of the classic in September. And the Washington Ballet recently announced that Copeland will reprise her lead turn in its production of “Swan Lake” next spring.

“I’ve been a fan of Misty’s for years,” Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre said in a Washington Post interview. “There’s a freshness and newness that she brings to what she’s doing, and with the attention that she’s receiving now, it’s an exciting moment. To give her the opportunity to dance her first ‘Swan Lake’ in the U.S. this spring, and to pair her with Brooklyn Mack [also African-American], questions some notions about who should be dancing principal roles in classical ballet.”

Although Copeland’s accomplishments might suggest that her life has been charmed, it’s been anything but. She began studying dance at age 13 — considered too late by some — at a Los Angeles–area Boys & Girls Club, and her childhood was tumultuous and unstable, which surely helped shape her steely determination to succeed. In fact, Copeland’s memoir, A Life in Motion (co-written with Charisse Jones), was also published in 2014 and became a New York Times bestseller.

Copeland spends much of her spare time mentoring young people and working with organizations that support them. So she was thrilled this year when President Obama appointed her to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Copeland, however, has yet to achieve all of her dreams: “My goal is to become the first African-American principal dancer with ABT,” she recently told The New Yorker. “And, you know, of course, to get married and have kids.”

For a woman who wills what she wants, consider them done. — Nicole Crawford-Tichawonna