May 10, 2015
Reporting on Misty Copeland for 60 Minutes this week, correspondent Bill Whitaker heard the story of the star ballerina’s childhood: how a dance teacher took a teenage Misty under her wing, took her in her home, and changed her life.
What Whitaker didn’t expect to hear was that Copeland, now a soloist at the American Ballet Theater, is doing something similar for two teenage boys from Brooklyn — identical twins Shaakir and Naazir Muhammad.
“She’s a coach, she’s a mentor, she’s a big sister,” Whitaker tells 60 Minutes Overtime. “Her face lights up when she talks about them.”
How did these 17-year-old boys find the world of ballet? They told Whitaker it happened at age six, when professional dancers from the Brooklyn Ballet visited their elementary school as part of an outreach program. What they saw were muscular guys dancing with pretty girls. They were sold.
At home, they told their parents they wanted to dance, but the idea was immediately squashed. Whitaker says that didn’t stop them from forging their mother’s signature on a permission slip, and sneaking out to attend ballet class.
By age seven, both boys got scholarships to attend the Brooklyn Ballet School, and by age 11, they were accepted into the competitive school at ABT. That’s where they first caught a glimpse of Misty Copeland.
Until then, Naazir told Whitaker he felt like “the black sheep in the room.” “Everyone is Caucasian in the room except for a few people and then Misty came in,” Naazir said. “I tapped my brother like, ‘Look. There’s a black girl right there.'”
Misty Copeland has been looking out for the twins ever since — critiquing their ballet, their behavior, and their life choices.
When Shaakir recently announced his plan to quit high school to pursue ballet, Misty got involved and set him straight. What the twins say they’ve learned is that ballet is not about race or skin color; it’s about the way you move your body.
“I know that they’ve heard a lot of negativity throughout their training, and they still do to this day,” Copeland told Whitaker. “They don’t care. They love to dance.”
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