Should ballet dancers of color be required to wear pink, “flesh”-colored tights and shoes that don’t actually match their own flesh at all?
“Ballet dancers are all about achieving a continuous ‘line’ from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes,” says Ballet West First Soloist Katlyn Addison. “Most of my life, I didn’t even think about how the pinkish tights and shoes sort of cut me in half visually, but the first time I saw a black woman like me wearing tights that matched her skin, I thought, ‘Wow, that really works for her instead of against her.’”
Bare legs were far too scandalous for Parisians in the early 1800’s when ballet was forming an identity. So, The Paris Opera Ballet sought the next best thing: pink hose and shoes, which made the legs and feet of the all-white company appear nude without the ignominy.
Fast-forward a couple centuries and monochromatic rows of legs have since become sacrosanct in the art form (think of those tidy rows of Snowflakes in The Nutcracker). However, with dancers of color filling its ranks, a few companies— including Ballet West—are looking to the past for a more inclusive future, honoring the original intent of matching a dancer’s complexion to create a more seamless individual “line” rather than a collective one.
The company recently announced it would no longer require dancers of color to sport pink legs and feet in performances—instead, Ballet West will provide all dancers with tights and shoes that more closely match their individual skin tones.
The company will also retire another outdated ballet ritual: historic ‘body paling’ make-up (usually done to make light skin tones look even lighter in iconic ballets like Swan Lake and Giselle). “These may seem like small things, but the changes mean a lot to me as a dancer of color in the ballet world,” says Addison, adding, “All art forms evolve and ballet is no exception.”
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