Diversity In Ballet: The Importance Of Creating Skin Tone Pointe Shoes

The lack of diversity in the ballet world made pink and nude pointe shoes become an industry standard. Because of this, ballet dancers of color have long painted, dyed or covered their pointe shoes with makeup to match their skin. However, the amount of colored ballerinas on stage have been increasing more and more, evidencing the need for ballet shoes for brown and black skin.

Many brands already show that, for something to be skin-colored, it needs to be for all skins. This is what led to the creation of brown, bronze and black dance shoes, as a significant attitude in defense of diversity and against the exclusion in ballet.

  1. 1. But, why pink?

    Have you ever wondered why ballet shoes have always been a pale peachy pink shade? The answer is because the first pointe shoes were created in the nineteenth century in France, when the majority - if not all - of the ballerinas were white. The pointe shoe must be a continuation of the foot, to create a more extended line. Therefore, over the years, they were only made in pink or nude to become more similar to the skin tone of European dancers.

    In 2015, Misty Copeland made history by becoming the first African American prima ballerina in the American Ballet Theatre, one of the leading ballet companies in the world. For a really long time, ballet made huge efforts to hold on to the past and to the idea of uniformity, where dancers are all white-skinned people. So there is no surprise that pink and beige pointe shoes have become the industry standard.

  2. 2. Enough of pancaking!

    In the past, most dancers used to wear pink and beige tights so the color of the shoe would match with the ballerina's leg tone, creating a graceful line from leg to toe. Nowadays, most modern dance companies abandoned tights for bare legs, which means that ballerinas with darker skin tones struggled with extending their lines.

    Therefore, dancers of color started painting their pointe shoes with makeup to match their skin - a process known in ballet circles as “pancaking”. In an interview for The New York Times, Cira Robinson - a senior artist at Ballet Black - talked about the first time she dyed her dance shoes with foundation. “I’d go to the cheapest stores and get foundation” remembers the ballerina, who started pancaking at 15 years old. She describes the ritual as "nothing unusual", because it was very naturalized, even though it was an expensive and longstanding process that only colored ballerinas were obligated to do. "I didn't know any different", said Cira.

  3. 3. A delay of 200 years

    200 years after the creation of pointe shoes, they finally made ballet products for black people. For a short time in the 1980s, the brand Capezio offered brown pointe shoes. However, because of the lack of combination of colors needed and the low demand, they ended up being discontinued. In 2017, Gaynor Minden launched its sepia line, followed by Freed of London, a year later. Three new nude colors were created: cappuccino, moka and espresso, aiming to correspond with darker skin tones, helping  dancers of color to feel represented in dance.

    In 2018, Freed - world leading brand of handcrafted dance shoes - in partnership with Ballet Black - a British company specifically for black and asian dancers - launched a line with brown and bronze pointe shoes made especially for their ballerinas.

  4. 4. More representation in more brands

    In the context of the Black Lives Matters movement in 2020, an ongoing issue has been brought to dancewear brands: the lack of products for colored people. It has led people to question why only a few brands have started producing skin tone pointe shoes at this point. That's why dancers created a petition to get all dancewear brands to expand the colors offered for pointe shoes. Because of the online pressure, first Bloch, then Russian Pointe, Grisko, Capezio, Repetto, Só Dança and other brands committed to adding brown hues to its offering of tights and shoes.

    2020 was a historical year for the ballet world. Ingrid Silva’s pointe shoes became a museum piece at the National Museum of African Art, in the United States. This symbolized more inclusion of black dancers in ballet and, of course, the end of pancaking. Ingrid Silva is a Brazilian ballet dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a company destined for black and asian dancers. Pregnant, she said on Instagram:

    “When this child is born, we’re going to go to the museum to learn about black history. There I’ll say: ‘Do you see that? That’s mommy’s pointe shoe."

  5. 5. Well, it's about time...

    “There are certain traditions like pink shoes that just don’t work for the twenty-first century, given the fact that the people in the ballet world now aren’t just white”, published the National Ballet of Canada on Instagram to celebrate the arrival of pointe shoes for colored ballerinas and the increase of diversity in ballet. Even though we are making great progress in a white dominated industry, the world of ballet still has a long way to go in terms of inclusion.

After all, we got to the conclusion that the creation of skin toned pointe shoes for black and brown ballerinas not only means more diversity and inclusion in ballet, but is also a testament to the fact that it is really important that we keep talking about race.


The article above was edited by Amanda Moraes.

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