Diversifying dance, one accessory at a time

Alexandra Hutchinson painting her shoes to match her skin
Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Alexandra Hutchinson painting her toe shoes to match her skin tone. Photo by An Rong Xu for NYT.

Hi, everyone!

A few years ago I wrote a piece on intimate apparel companies that have begun selling wider ranges of “skin tone” items. The one that offered the widest range of colors was Nude Barre.

Ingrid Silva of Dance Theatre of Harlem, dyeing her shoes. Photo by An Rong Xu for NYT
Ingrid Silva of Dance Theatre of Harlem dyeing her shoes. Photo by An Rong Xu for NYT.

 

 

Many dance troupes require “flesh colored” tights, bras, and dance trunks as part of performance uniforms. Nude Barre’s founder, Erin Carpenter, retired from professional dance herself. She formed the company in order to provide a range of colors not previously available from dancewear companies. She remembered spending hours every week dyeing costumes to match her skin and wanted younger dancers to have better options. Her company now offers 13 different shades of professional dance hosiery and lingerie.

 

 

 

 

As dancers of color move up the ranks of traditional dance companies, the struggle they face to keep their gear dyed has come into the open. In September 2016, the Huffington Post published an Instagram post made by dancer Chyrstyn Mariah Fentroy showing “paint day”. The photo included her personalized bottle of shoe dye, one pink toe shoe, and the one she just finished dying to her skin shade. Fentroy, a soloist with the Boston Ballet, is lucky enough to have a wardrobe department able to mix her custom skin shade to dye her tights and shoes.

Principle ballerina Misty Copeland of the American Ballet Theatre commented in a recent interview about how much effort goes into dyeing her shoes to get them the right color, as do several Rockettes in this interview about their footwear.

Guardian 2018 interview with ballerina Misty Copeland

Who, What, Wear blog interview with two Rockettes about their feet, costumes, and shoes

Ballerina Alexandra Hutchinson
Alexandra Hutchinson while with the Nashville Ballet Company. Photo by iheart12am.

 

 

Larger companies, such as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, The Rockettes, and Ballet Black, in London, have relied on wardrobe assistance for years. Dancers in smaller companies have often had to concoct their own dyes. Dancers’ have mentioned cheap makeup and acrylic paints as personal fixes for this.

Refinery29’s 2017 announcement of new Gaynor Minden toe shoe shades

This is changing. In early 2017 American toe shoe company Gaynor Minden began offering their range of toe shoes in Mocha, Cappuccino, and Espresso, alongside traditional offerings of pink, black, white, and red satins.

 

 

 

BBC News announces Freed of London shoe collaboration with Ballet Black

In November 2018, another important producer of toe shoes began producing these elite accessories in several non-white colors: Freed of London now offers two non-traditional shades, Ballet Bronze and Ballet Brown, beside the classic pink, white, and black.

3 skin tones offered by Freed of London
Freed of London’s toe shoes page

The new shoe options have been welcomed. “This isn’t about shoes, this is about who belongs in ballet and who doesn’t,” said Virginia Johnson, the artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, in a phone interview. “It’s a signal that the world is open to you.” (NYT 11/4/18)

Ballet Black on stage
Ballet Black on stage

New York Times 2018 article about diversity and dance accessories

Several more companies produce inclusive ranges of dancewear and lingerie:

Shades of Dance hosiery company

Capezio dancewear company

The Rockettes in candy cane costumes
The Rockettes, in a candy cane costume that shows the range of shoe and tight colors they require. Photo by Mike Pont.

Here’s my previous post on inclusive lingerie:

Volumes & Issues July 2017: Word-Worthy Women: Relearning the lingerie biz

And here is a list of many other black dancers currently working:

Dancers changing the face of ballet

Have a wonderful weekend!

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2 Responses to Diversifying dance, one accessory at a time

  1. Previously it was quite difficult to get a perfect costume with quality and matching colors but it made possible only due to companies like you.

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