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Ballerinas of Colour Finally Get Shoes to Fit Darker Skin

Dancers can now wear pointe shoes that match darker complexions

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

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.

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