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Because the Same Day Misty Copeland Made History, Stella Abrera Did Too

Stella Abrera  

American Ballet Theatre’s Stella Abrera’s dancing invites the attention of a thoughtful and patient viewer: one who will linger on the willowy extension of her arms, the otherworldly way she seems to float across the stage.

Even as she proved herself in numerous principal roles, it seemed like Abrera might be a career soloist at ABT. Then, on June 30, the same day Misty Copeland became the first African-American principal dancer in ABT’s history, Abrera got the nod too. After 20 years at the company (and at the advanced-for-a-ballerina age of 37), she is its first Filipina-American principal ballerina. Copeland got magazine covers; Abrera’s moment was only captured in a black-and-white Instagram photo by dancer Daniil Simkin, in which company members applaud her as sits cross-legged on the studio floor, hands crossed over her heart, weeping with what looks like a mixture of joy and relief.

It was a landmark moment for Abrera, in part because she was even dancing at all. In 2008, Abrera suffered a sciatic-nerve injury that took her two years to recover from; then she dealt with continued relapses. “Even walking around the city was a huge feat for me. I had to change the way I approached dancing,” she says. It was only this past summer, after ABT’s New York season, that “I felt like I was fully comfortable in my own skin and feeling confident in my quote-unquote new body. There was something about being my age and doing what we do that gave me license to allow myself to not be afraid anymore.”