The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor Raven Wilkinson

Grand Central. Nov. 2022. 240p. ISBN 9781538753859. $29. DANCE
Ballerina Copeland writes another memoir about the highs and lows of ballet stardom (following Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina and Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy), with a special focus on the celebrated career of pioneering Black ballerina Raven Wilkinson, who ultimately became Copeland’s mentor. Wilkinson was the first Black member of a major ballet company to grace stages worldwide with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the mid-20th century. The parallels between Copeland’s and Wilkinson’s careers are clear: each won critical acclaim for her artistry—and also faced racism (some overt, some subtle) that affected their trajectories in the predominantly white ballet world. In a conversational tone, Copeland recounts her own barriers and triumphs as she rose to the rank of principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, interwoven with highlights from Wilkinson’s less-known career. Balletomanes will enjoy the book’s blow-by-blow accounts of Copeland’s mold-breaking performance of Swan Lake and of Wilkinson’s interactions with dance luminaries like Alicia Alonso, although the book could have used more photographs to bring the subjects to life.
VERDICT An accessible read that will surely be popular with Copeland’s many fans. Also a good choice for libraries looking to broaden their Black history offerings.
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