May 02, 2016 06:50 PM

People all around the world have been speaking out on Prince’s legacy since his death on April 21.

Among those is ballerina Misty Copeland – the first-ever female African-American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater (ABT) – who previously worked with Prince earlier on in her career.

“I wouldn’t be in this place in my career had I not met him,” Copeland tells PEOPLE at the launch of the new Misty Copeland Barbie. “[Had I not] been influenced by him and experienced being on stage with him.”

Prince and Misty Copeland in 2010
Kevin Mazur/NPG Records 2010/Getty

Today, Copeland credits Prince’s influence and guidance in helping her to evolve as an artist in a way that in the world of professional ballet, she hadn’t yet experienced.

“He pushed me as an artist in ways I hadn’t been before,” she said. “In ways that the ballet world doesn’t particularly invite.”

Copeland and Prince collaborated multiple times throughout their careers. She appeared in his 2009 music video for “Crimson and Clover” and danced during a rendition of “The Beautiful Ones” on Lopez Tonight in 2011. Later that year, she danced alongside him on his European tour.

“He allowed me to be me on the stage, and explore,” she says. “I feel like that’s really when I started to blossom as an artist.”

Copeland says that the lessons Prince taught her were essential in carving out her own name back at ABT.

“I was able to take all those tools back with me to ABT and use them in a different structure and a different environment, but feel that I had that freedom internally to become the artist I want to be.”

Prince was a “huge part” of the ballet community, Copeland says, donating to ABT and a number dance schools that hold a special place in her heart.

“There are so many moments I feel like I’ll keep forever with me,” she says. “He will forever live on.”

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