Despite the success of dancers such as Misty Copeland and Michaela DePrince, the ballet world is still inherently white. For decades, dancers of colour have had no choice but to wear pale pink or cream-hued shoes, breaking the seamless line that is supposed to run through the leg and foot. It is even common for them to cover their shoes in layers of makeup. But a historic brand is changing the game by selling shoes and tights for ballerinas of colour.
Freed's collaboration with inclusive dance troupe Ballet Black was first announced in October 2018, reports the Guardian. But this spring will mark the first time the group's dancers have gone on tour with their skin-matching pointe shoes. The two new bronze and brown shades are designed for darker skin tones and can be bought with matching tights.
The partnership may spell the end of pancaking: the tradition of caking pointe shoes in makeup to match darker skin tones. According to the Telegraph, the entire process can take two hours and use up three layers of costly foundation. “To walk in and see shoes in your own skin colour is a real change in the ballet world," Ballet Black's group director Cassa Pancho told the Guardian. "So it might not seem like much that one little shop in London is doing this, but it’s a really significant change.”
A lack of shade diversity in pointe shoes' may seem like the bigger issue and, indeed, it took Freed and Ballet Black 18 months to conjure up the new shades. But dancer Cira Robinson told the Guardian that she felt ill-matching tights were the more uncomfortable problem. "Pancaking is a tradition," she told the paper, “but ballet is also about inclusion. And the pink tights are, you know, ouch!"
In September 2018, black ballerina Precious Adams spoke out about the pink tight problem. "It changes the aesthetic — you want there to be continuation between your upper and lower body and there’s a big disconnect if I put pink tights on," she told the Evening Standard.
Traditionalists, however, reportedly told Adams that ballet is all about pink tights. "They think me wearing brown tights in a tutu is somehow ‘incorrect’," she continued. "But I want to look my best on stage. I’m not colour blind and I think it ruins the line of my body."
Freed isn't the first company to sell a diverse shoe colour range (U.S.-based Gaynor Minden did so in 2017), but it appears to be the only dance-focused brand housing both inclusive footwear and tights. As the Guardian reports, the collaboration has been ordered by people from all over the world, proving just how much of a need there is for the line.
The tights can be bought online but dancers will have to contact Freed to place an order for shoes. As each pointe shoe is hand-made, buyers may have to wait a few weeks to pick up a pair in their chosen shade. Judging by the Instagram reaction, they're well worth the wait.