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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Dancewear: Why aren't there shoes for black dancers?

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I'm so glad that ballet today is becoming more diverse, but a topic about how dance still lacks diversity came to my attention: Why don't they make shoes in skin tones other than beige and pink?


I never have known the struggle of pancaking shoes to match my skin tone, but this is a really interesting article written by the BBC about this topic that I would like to share:



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The recognition that there is a need is huge. It is something the dancewear industry tried to address a few years back but they did a poor strategic job and the attempt was mostly unsuccessful. Thus once again creating a lack in the market. Possibly the push in the mainstream fashion industry that is changing it's verbage and belief that "skintone" and "flesh" are not always rosy beige is carrying over. I know that over the past 3 years or so, my children can go in and purchase undergarments and dress pumps in a variety of a set of colors no longer mislabeled as "skintone or flesh".


Dancers of color come in such a wonderful variety of skintones, there will likely always be some pancaking or spraying still needed in order to truly find a match, but any efforts to be more inclusive and to rid ourselves of one word color names and choices for skintone is a giant step in the right direction. It permeates everywhere.

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This is indeed long overdo!


I have but one darker-skinned dancer in my troupe this season and he has had trouble getting the make up he needs; the theatre doesn't regularly carry the colour he needs, and that is a problem.

Luckily, the so-called "suntan" slippers suit him wonderfully, but that is not always the case! How lovely it would be to have different tones of slippers, tights and pointe shoes to choose from! Pancaking the shoes is such a hassle. (we used to have to do it all the time when the choreographer did not want "shiny" shoes, or a slightly different nuance of colour)



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This is so interesting and important! Yes, ballet is becoming more diverse, but we need to expand that to ballet products as well! I too have never had to pancake my shoes, they always match my skin- I'm the palest person I've ever met! But I go to a performing arts high school in Baltimore that has many African American dancers and whenever our shoes need to be skin tone, the dark skinned girls always have to do the most work to get their shoes to match. They all manage to find darker skin tone tights for our modern classes, but I can imagine that's a struggle!

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There are so many skin tones not represented. When my daughter was 9 and the girls in her class needed flesh colored leotards for under costumes there were many girls for whom the standard flesh color didn't work well. I understand that they can't make every possible skin tone to match perfectly, but there could at least be a range of four colors or something. My kid with her Northern European ancestry has vastly different skin tone than a friend whose parents moved here from India. I get that companies want to make products that work for the largest part of their audience for financial reasons, but it seems crazy to me that they would continue to exclude everyone else. What does that say to a kid when companies don't even make other shades?

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I agree, but I don't think this specific issue is unique to the ballet world, if you go and by a bra, the shop is almost CERTAIN to have black, white and 'white flesh' colour.

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Yeah, one time my teacher was making fun (I don't think he realized how it came out) of my darker peer because the shoes he dyed looked maroon/purple.

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Good! Hopefully these will actually be available for the normal dancing public at reasonable prices soon. :) :)



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Here is a link to the Dyeing to Match Campaign's Survey. If you are a dancer or parent of a dancer of color who purchases dancewear, you may wish to fill out the survey. The owners of it will present results to the companies that are most often used. Dyeing to Match


Knowing manufacturing and sales of dancewear there is a much bigger picture than just the availability of these items. First, there must be a need and by need I don't mean that there must be dancers of color. We have been here for years. I mean there must be places that allow the money spent on tan and pink to be spent on tan, light caramel, butterscotch, cafe au lait, mocha, light mocha, and therefore worn in class to "match". If only 20 dancers in the country are buying butterscotch shoes, then butterscotch shoes will be around for a time and then disappear. (e. 13 years ago Capezio made their tights in 6 shades of brown, when the economy flopped in 2006 they dropped to 3 shades).


In other words: need has to turn into options to wear, then options to wear has to turn into demand, then demand has to turn into dollars and those dollars have to become consistent and growing sales. With the growth of contemporary dance in particular that need has grown for all dancers not just dancers of color, etc. etc. etc.


In the meantime and while the industry is growing, there are many professional costumers that will perform dye services for you or will create dye formulas for you for a small fee. The dye formula fees over a year's time come out to just a tad per pair of tights or canvas shoes. (I paid $50-65 for DD's dye formula a few years ago. She had to send in a photo of her skin in a certain kind of light, go pick a tiny piece of fabric that best reflected her skin color to send in and then specify the brands of tights she needed the formula to work on, the type of dye she had access to, etc. He then sent her 4-6 samples of what the colors would look like if dyed and she could then pick the formula to purchase). These dye formulas will be specific to the tights or shoes you wear and must be adapted if you change fabric contents even a little. So they are best used by the older dancer who has a tights preference or the younger dancer whose school has a brand of tights that you must wear. As a student we did this ourselves. As a professional, the costume shop will sometimes take this on as a part of costuming.


Most times the shoes and tights will have a different dye formula so if you need both, then you will need two formulas. If you are in a school setting that allows for dancers of color to wear true skin tone tights, then it may be worth your school's while to invest in dye formulas for the type of tights you require. For us, Standard tights colors did not create the right line. Light tan was too light and too yellowish, dark tan or suntan too red based and mocha too dark and red. So finding the right dye formula was not only important but necessary to gain the same line in skintone tights and shoes as pink does for others. A mismatch in tone actually takes away from the line instead of enhances it.

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Thank you Ophelia. I knew they used to but wasn't sure they still did. I've been out of dancewear sales for over 5 years now and have to personally keep up anymore.

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  • 1 year later...

I was in a dance store with my daughter and they had some Gaynor Minden's in other skin tone colors.  While not comprehensive it's a start hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit to fill the void.


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