The prima ballerina cried at Essence Fest when reminiscing about her unique relationship with the musician
Credit: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman named principal dancer by the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, credits much of her confidence to the relationship she had with Prince. The prima ballerina choked up when speaking about her friendship with the late singer, whom she called “this really hilarious, quiet guy who became my friend” during a chat with Soledad O’Brien on Saturday at Essence Festival.

There to discuss the impact she is having on ballet when it comes to inclusion and opening the door up to other dancers of color, Copeland stressed that she is not “the first black woman to put on pointe shoes and dance for a company.” Rather, she’s just the first one to receive the opportunities others who came before her did not.

One of those opportunities was collaborating with Prince. He first cast Copeland in the video for his song “Crimson and Clover” but it wasn’t until she went on tour with him in Europe that she realized the extent of his talent.

“I stepped onto the stage with him for the first time and I was like, okay, I get it now,” she said. “Wow!”

She went on to explain how Prince helped her succeed as a dancer. “He was the first person that pushed me artistically to have this freedom to do what was inside of me — to deliver that,” she said. “Classical ballet doesn’t really celebrate that.”

Copeland added that the first time she performed with Prince was in 2009 during show in France. “I arrived and I had no idea what I was going to do. He said, ‘Oh, just go out there and dance and when I come on the stage you can leave,’” she said with a laugh. “I was like, okay. I had never experienced freedom like that — to just go out there and create.”

She continued, “It was something that I learned as a tool that I took back with me to ABT — that no matter what environment I’m in, I still can bring myself and my creativity to it and my artistry,” she said. “The more I performed with him, the more I learned about who I wanted to be, both as a person and as an artist. I will forever credit and thank him for that.”

Watch the two here perform “The Beautiful Ones” on The Lopez Show.