Ever since she became the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has broken down all types of barriers in the dance world.
But when ET caught up with the 34-year-old ballerina at the National Youth of the Year Boys & Girls Clubs of America Gala in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, the Club alumna revealed there was a time where she didn't feel all that comfortable in her own skin.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in San Pedro, California, Copeland began her ballet training at the age of 13, and immediately felt the pressure most dancers feel while in the studio competing with their peers. In addition to the insecurities that come with trying to feel confident in a leotard, tights and a slicked-back ballerina bun, or constantly looking in the mirror to see how one's skills match up to others in the room, Copeland was also judged for her athletic build while perfecting her skills at the San Pedro City Ballet.
Looking back, however, Copeland knows that all those thoughts were just distracting her from becoming the iconic dancer she is today. When asked if she could go back in time and visit her younger self in the studio, she said she would tell herself to just "be confident."
"Believe in yourself and don't compare yourself to other people," she continued. "Just try not to get caught up in the outside noise and just know that everything's going to work out."
Things have certainly worked out in Copeland's favor, and she's proved that hard work pays off. Now, her confidence is on fire, and she hopes that aspiring dancers will be inspired by her story. That's one of the reasons why Copeland decided to play muse to esteemed photographer Gregg Delman for his first book, Misty Copeland.
"It was kind of a work in progress and in process with Gregg Delman, the photographer," Copeland explained to ET. "We kind of became friends and we started taking photos for fun. And five years later, we came up with the concept for the book and just kind of displayed these years and years of just, like, fun work we were doing together."
"I think it’s empowering for girls to see someone who is confident in their body, and that it's OK to have muscles and to show the hard work that ballerinas put into their bodies and the art form," she continued. "I'm just so proud of the book."
See more pics from Copeland's breathtaking shoot HERE.