- Pinkish nude ballet shoes have become an industry standard, but on brown skin, they can shorten the silhouette.
- Dyeing ballet shoes brown in a process called “pancaking” has been a traditional solution for many ballerinas- but it’s time consuming and messy.
- Ballet Black, a dance company with a black and Asian cast, joined forces with a ballet manufacturer Freed to create bronze and brown pointe shoes for dancers of color.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
What we’re seeing here may seem like a typical ballet shoe factory. But its actually one of the few factories filling a critical role in the changing world of ballet.
Because these pointe shoes are made specifically for brown-skinned ballerinas.
Ballet Black, a dance company composed diverse dancers, and Freed, a ballet shoe manufacturer in the UK…
Are working together to flip diversity numbers on their heads.
From the dancers themselves to the shoes on their feet.
In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first African-American prima ballerina in the American Ballet Theater, but not just there.
You see, she’s the first in any major international company. Period.
So it’s no surprise that beige nude shoes have become the industry standard.
“Ballet Black is a London-based company and it’s specifically for black and asian dancers. It was started because there was a lack of black and asian representation in the ballet world.”
In 2018, they partnered up with Freed, their go-to ballet shoe manufacturer. Together, they created a line of brown and bronze pointe shoes for their dancers as an alternative.
But why is color matching so important in ballet anyway?
Ballet is all about graceful lines. A pointe shoe that matches the ballerinas skin tone extends the line a ballerina makes from her leg to the tip of her toe.
In the past, most dance companies sported pink, beige, or white tights… so color matching to the shoe wasn’t a huge problem.
But now, more modern companies are ditching the tights for bare legs.
And if your skin is, say, a lovely caramel color, a pink ballet shoe totally ruins your line.
“For me in my company, I feel comfortable in my brown shoes because it is extending that line that we want.”
Before this partnership, ballerinas resigned themselves to the old-school solution — pancaking.
Pancaking is taking a typical beige or pink ballet shoes, and coating it with a layer of foundation.
“I remember having to pancake my first pair at fifteen, and it was nothing unusual. I never thought about there being a shoe made in my color where I wouldn’t have to pancake.”
“Once I pancaked the shoe I would usually have to touch it up after a couple of wears. Just because naturally the makeup on the fabric would start to fade, you know, with the sweat and wear and tear of dancing anyway.”
While dancers of all colors pancake shoes, it’s more of a necessity for dancers whose complexion isn’t on any of the shelves.
“My reaction to the Freed shoes was for me, a long time coming. As a dark-skinned ballerina, to have something that is just catering to my darkness, I felt kind of like someone was listening.”
Freed produces over 330,000 ballet shoes a year, each one hand crafted to suit a dancer’s individual needs.
“The life of a pointe shoe really begins with myself and the rest of the team, when we go out and meet the dancer. We have what we call a pointe shoe fitting and we discuss with the dancer, and maybe the teachers or the ballet staff, exactly what each girl needs.”
When Ballet Black expressed the need for skin toned pointe shoes, Freed delivered.In their London workshop, they make everything from the raw materials to the finished product.The maker receives builds the shoe from scratch, laying the soles, placing the block and attaching the insoles. “They’re baked in an oven overnight like a cake, then the next day and quality checked, and then go to the binding or finishing room.”
The shoes are stitched by hand and bound together.
Freed isn’t the only manufacturer that’s working to serve dancers of color.
Robinson credits American ballet shoe manufacturer Gaynor Minden as well.
But while these dance and manufacturing companies are making great steps in a white-dominated industry, the world of ballet still has a long way to go in terms of inclusion.
“As far as diversity, it’s a must. Times are changing. Black ballet dancers, we’ve always been around. We’re not going anywhere. It’s just highlighting those little things that don’t take away from tradition. It’s just a little something for us to feel good about being in a world that we don’t always feel involved in. I love Ballet to death. Having these shoes is just that extra something of showing how much I love it.”