"I want to be a ballet dancer"

In 1974, Morley Safer visited New York's American Ballet Theatre School, where hundreds of applicants were vying for a chance to dance

This week on 60 Minutes, Bill Whitaker profiles American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland. But this isn't the first time the 60 Minutes audience has paid a visit to ABT. Back in 1974, Morley Safer visited the company's prestigious school on audition day, when a pool of 200 young dancers was winnowed down to 27.

otballerina1974abt.jpg

The story, in the video player above, offers a rare look at what goes into making a top dancer like Copeland. They train for hours at a time, fighting through physical pain, harsh criticism and sheer exhaustion, just for a slim shot at success.

Auditioning for an elite school like ABT's, Safer says, is often "the first step on a path strewn with disappointment." Only a lucky few will qualify for further training, and the competition is fierce.

"We're just looking for special types, so it isn't anything personal," Leon Danielian, the school's director, tells the would-be dancers in Safer's piece. "Some of you are not old enough. Some of you are a little too thin. Some of you are a little too heavy."

"We're just looking for special types, so it isn't anything personal. Some of you are not old enough. Some of you are a little too thin. Some of you are a little too heavy."

Sixteen-year-old Jane Hickey, a budding ballerina with bright red hair, gets accepted to the school. "I want to be a ballet dancer more than anything else," she tells Safer. "And I'm willing to devote all my time to it."

But Hickey knows that might not be enough. "If I started to think about the odds against me," she says, "I'd probably quit tomorrow."