in News | 14 NOV 18

Ballerinas of Colour Finally Get Shoes to Fit Darker Skin

Dancers can now wear pointe shoes that match darker complexions

in News | 14 NOV 18

Cira Robinson and Marie Astrid Mence wearing Freed of London’s Ballet Brown and Ballet Bronze pointe shoes. Courtesy: Ballet Black

Pointe shoes that match the skin tones of non-white ballet dancers are finally being made in the UK in what has been described as a ‘historic moment in British ballet history’.

Ballet Black, a dance company for ethnic minorites, has teamed up with Freed of London, a well-known designer and manufacturer of ballet shoes that has been producing shoes since 1929, to create shoes designed for black, Asian and mixed-race dancers. Two new colours, ‘Ballet Bronze’ and ‘Ballet Brown’ have been introduced to their core collection.

Cira Robinson, a ballet dancer at Ballet Black explained to NPR how she had been forced to paint her shoes in a practice called ‘pancaking’ in order to achieve the seamless line from leg to toe, which is desirable in ballet. ‘It’s tedious. It’s a bit messy because it is brown foundation. It gets everywhere,’ she explained.

Ballet shoes, traditionally produced in light ‘European pink’ in order to imitate a bare foot, have instead come to represent a symbol of ballet’s lack of diversity: ‘since the beginning [ballet] has been white’, Robinson continued.

Cassa Pancho, the founder and artistic director of Ballet Black said of the introduction of the new shoes: ‘I am beyond delighted that Freed have launched these two new colours. Although it may seem like a very small change to the outside world, I believe this is an historic moment in British ballet history and another step forward for culturally diverse dancers across the globe.’

Recent studies, however, have shown that a lack of diversity continues to plague the sector. In data released from the Arts Council England this year, diversity in ballet companies remains a mixed picture. While BME people make up 16% of the UK’s working-age population, at Birmingham Royal Ballet only 13% of employees identify as BME, while at Northern Ballet the statistics are disheartening, with only 5% BME employees. The figures at English National Ballet are more promising, with 18% of employees defining as BME, up from 15% in the previous year.