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BATTLE OVER MISTY COPELAND DRAWS MEDIA.

LOS ANGELES--"If you see her dance, it's easy to see why people would be interested," says Sylvia dela Cerna, the mother of Misty Copeland, a young ballet student. The recent media swirl surrounding Misty has not focused on her dancing, however. A tense dispute between Misty, her mother, and the two dance teachers she lived and trained with for two and a half years has been splashed across television and print media. "It looked like the O.J. Simpson trial when we came out of court last time," says Cynthia Bradley, Misty's coach. There is a connection: Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles attorney known for taking on high-profile clients such as the family of Nicole Brown Simpson, represented dela Cerna.

The issue centers on who should be able to direct the life and career of sixteen-year-old Misty, and the level of sacrifice that she and her family should make to further her career. Dela Cerna asserts that during the time that Misty has lived with Cynthia and Patrick Bradley, she did not spent enough time with her own family. In August she decided that Misty would henceforth live at home and study at a neighborhood dance studio. The Bradleys--devastated that they can no longer have any contact with Misty, who has become like a member of their family--argue that Misty is old enough to be able to decide where she wants to study and live.

The relationship between Misty and the Bradleys began when Cynthia Bradley noticed Misty at a free ballet class she taught at a girls' and boys' club almost three years ago. "I immediately recognized something really special about her," Bradley says. "I touched her foot and placed her body, and she could assimilate what I was giving her immediately." Bradley invited Misty to take classes at her school, the San Pedro Dance Center. "She never showed up," says Bradley, "and I asked her each week why she wouldn't come to my school, and she said, `my mom doesn't have a car.' At the time, she wasn't living with her mom, but the woman that she lived with had two jobs and she couldn't bring her to my school." At first, Bradley picked up Misty after school. Soon after she started taking ballet, says Bradley, Misty moved back in with her mother.

"She was living at the time in a motel in Gardena," explains Bradley. "After three months she was already dancing on pointe and doing fabulous things and she was going to have to give it up. That's when I asked her mom if she could move in with us. A lot of dancers go away for training; it's not that unusual." Before she moved in, Misty and her mother signed both a management contract and a life-story contract. The management contract gave the Bradleys the right to negotiate on Misty's behalf, as well as 20 percent of the money that she earned until she turned eighteen.

Although the Bradleys say that when Misty moved in with them all parties were happy about the arrangement, dela Cerna recalls the situation differently. "When she went to stay [with the Bradleys]--which I didn't want her to do anyway; I just did it because I wanted her to be able to dance--they knew from day one that as soon as I had transportation, as soon as I was settled and I could get Misty back and forth, that she would come back home to live."

Misty spent the next two and a half years living with the Bradleys, sharing a room with their son, Wolf, now five. "We ended up supporting her for almost three years, and she became part of the family," says Bradley. "She said for the first time in her life, when she was living with us, she didn't have any worries--and she was talking about her basic needs being paid for, and being fed--she had a dream life; she was a Cinderella." She made rapid progress in her dance training, adopting independent study so that she could spend more time in the studio with the Bradleys. Misty won the Los Angeles Music Center's Spotlight Award for young talent and was offered a summer scholarship to San Francisco Ballet School.

It was when Misty returned from San Francisco that her world unraveled. "My mom called and said that I was going to start living back home again," explains Misty, who said that she had learned of the legal concept of emancipation (in which children under eighteen are released from parental custody) while in San Francisco. The Bradleys introduced Misty to attorney Steven Bartell, who explained the petition process to Misty. "Her request for emancipation was so that she would have a voice," explains Bradley. When asked whether the Bradleys had encouraged her in seeking emancipation, Misty replies, "They kind of made it sound like it was a way to make things all better. So I thought it would be good."

Misty then ran away. "[The Bradleys] told me that I should not be around my mom when she finds out [about the emancipation petition], so that's when I went to my friend's house." Dela Cerna, who called the police to report Misty missing, explains, "I found out [about Misty's petition] when the attorney called the police department after I had reported her missing, and three days later, when she was finally brought in, I learned that they had retained an attorney for her." Dela Cerna brought Misty home and filed a restraining order against the Bradleys and their son, asserting that they had "brainwashed" Misty. The story of the battle over the ballerina attracted national media--Extra and the Los Angeles Times both covered the dispute.

In the courtroom, Misty dropped the emancipation proceedings after meeting privately with her attorney. "It didn't turn out the way I thought it was going to," she explained from her mother's apartment in September. "It made things worse instead of better."

Dela Cerna also dismissed the restraining order, which, says Ed Pease, the Bradleys' attorney, she did not have adequate basis for filing. "Sylvia brought the restraining order to prevent Misty from contacting or seeing or being involved with the Bradleys, or vice versa. It was based on Sylvia's claim that the Bradleys had brainwashed Misty, but harassment is very specific. Harassment is a pattern of behavior like stalking or phone calling or bothering."

Allred released a statement following the courtroom appearance stating: "The dismissal of the emancipation petition accomplished Sylvia's main goal of keeping the family bonds intact and strong, without interference by third parties.... Another concern of Sylvia in filing a request for restraining orders was that she did not believe it was in Misty's best interest to have continuing contact with the Bradleys. In the sworn declarations filed by the Bradleys in response to the restraining order they said that "we have not and will never do anything to interfere with Misty's relationship with her mother.... Since Sylvia has accomplished all of the goals that she intended to achieve when she filed her papers with the court we have chosen not to proceed to seek an injunction in this matter."

The management contract, according to Allred, is voidable because, in California, contracts concerning minors must be approved by a judge. The Bradleys point out that they have never taken money from Misty, who has received a small amount of income from performances and scholar ships. Although the life-story contract is also voidable, according to Allred, it is unclear what would happen if such an opportunity arose. The Bradleys say that they have been contacted by production companies.

After the trial, Misty returned home to her mother and started studying at the Lauridsen Dance Studio in Torrance. "I like it a lot," she says. She also reenrolled as a full-time high school student. "I'm glad I'm back in school," she adds. "I'm happy that I am going to graduate with my class of 2000."

The spectacle was not over, however, as all parties agreed to appear on NBC's Leeza Show. As the attorneys bickered shamelessly, the San Pedro Dance Center students in the audience offered tearful pleas that Misty be returned to the studio, and Bradley and dela Cerna explained their positions, Misty sat quietly in the audience. Bradley and her son were kept in a separate room but still on camera. Misty smiled only twice during the show--once at Wolf, when he was allowed to give her the message "I love you, Misty," and once when she was told that she was going to receive six months of free pointe shoes from Capezio. She broke down in tears when asked if she missed her dance friends. "I already said I miss my dance friends," she replied, looking back at the girls pleadingly, "but I can't do anything about it."
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Title Annotation:young ballet student center of controversy as to whether her parents or another family should direct her life
Author:Sims, Caitlin
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:1473
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