The death of George Floyd in police custody sparked national and global outrage, then the revival of a movement against police brutality and racism. People are beginning to take substantial action to fight racism, and the ballet industry is no exception.
Ballet, an art dominated by white artists, started in the 1500s in Italy and eventually spread to the United States. Ballerinas captivate the audience with their graceful turns, jumps, spins, and other movements thanks to pointe shoes.
Pointe shoes are shoes with a wooden box inside that ballerina’s balance on. These shoes are commonly pink because the ideal skin color of a ballerina has traditionally been white. The color of the shoes allows a beautiful picture to be created because the color of the shoes matches the ballerina’s skin tone, making it seem as if the ballerina is dancing on air.
Some people in the early years of ballet believed that dancers who are people of color should not participate in the art because their skin color was “unnatural” and a “distraction.” Luckily, the ballet world started to develop, creating diverse companies like Arthur Murray, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Ballet Black, which treated dancers of color equally. Still, some ballet companies are discriminatory towards dancers of color.
Some of the obstacles ballet dancers of color face daily include being mistreated and getting underpaid. More notably, due to many ballet shoe companies only making pink ballet shoes, dancers of color have to cover their shoes with brown makeup or paint. Many principal ballerinas have done this their entire lives, such as Misty Copeland, Cira Robinson and Marie Astrid Mence.
The nationwide revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, however, has brought change to the ballet community. After years of hardships, ballet dancers of color started to be heard when the movement gain attention.
A petition launched about two years ago to provide diverse shade options for dancers of color began to get more signatures because of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Now, Bloch, a major ballet shoe company plans to release brown pointe shoes in the fall. Capezio, another pointe shoe manufacturer, will also release pointe shoes in darker shades in response to another petition demanding inclusive shade options received over 300,000 signatures.
Both of these point shoe suppliers are taking a step forward in the right direction and are empowering ballet dancers of color to see themselves represented in the art they love.
If we all stand up together and fight for what we believe in, we will begin to change the wrong of our society. Just with one post, one signature and one protest, our future can change for the better, just like how it’s changing the ballet world.