Misty Copeland speaks to reporters during a news conference, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in New York.
Misty Copeland speaks to reporters during a news conference, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in New York.

U.S. ballerina Misty Copeland has been named principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, the first African American female dancer to achieve that status in the world-famous company's 75-year history.

The historic promotion for the 32-year-old Copeland comes after 14 years as a member of ABT, rising quickly from a member of the ABT's junior company to becoming a soloist with the full company in 2007 at age 24.  She earned raves just last week for a performance in the classic ballet "Swan Lake" at New York's Metropolitan Opera House.

Copeland's rise marks another rare achievement for black ballet dancers, who remain woefully underrepresented in the centuries-old art form -- a fact that Copeland has acknowledged during her career by openly stating her ambition to become ABT's first black female principal dancer. 

But she admitted during a news conference Tuesday that she had moments of doubt, "because I didn't know that there would be a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level.  At the same time, it made me so hungry to push through, to carry the next generation."

Copeland has gained a large fan base outside traditional ballet audiences, thanks to her constant presence across both conventional and social media.  She has already written a best-selling autobiography and a children's book, appeared on the cover of Time magazine as one of the most influential people of 2015, performed in a music video with the rock star Prince, and featured in a widely seen online commercial for a popular sportswear maker.

Copeland is only the fifth African American ballet dancer to be named a principal dancer with a company since the legendary Arthur Mitchell achieved that status with the New York City Ballet in 1962.  Lauren Anderson became America's first black female principal dancer with the Houston Ballet in 1990. 

Desmond Richardson became the ABT's first-ever black principal dancer in 1997.