Any dancer of color knows how time consuming and expensive pancaking your shoes to match your skintone can be. Not to mention that the very act is a indicator that you are not the “norm”. It may seem like a small thing, but when your skin, your hair texture, and your body structure are othered reminders like wearing tights and shoes that are reflective of the expected skin tone of a ballerina can take a psychological and emotional toll. It’s nice to see that Gaynor Minden is thinking about how to make us feel welcome, as though we belong.
What do you do if you’re not a White Swan, but not quite a Black Swan either? You spend an hour painting your pointe shoes tan with face makeup, then go all Natalie-Portman-Black-Swan insane about the homogeneity of ballet. But, for the first time in the 182-year history of the pointe shoe, a big-name dance wear company has finally released a nude-for-all option for dancers.

Gaynor Minden, a U.S.-based pointe shoe and accessory brand, announced on Facebook that it would be releasing two new shades of pointe shoes: Cappuccino and Espresso. The shoes are available for special order at no extra charge. Here’s how they look in Espresso:

Most pointe shoes come in three shades of pink satin — pink, lighter pink, and white — to match the pink ballet tights that are mandatory in most productions. But if a dancer has darker-than-pink skin, they may opt to change the color of their shoes and tights to create a more flattering line on the leg and foot. These new shades of satin are meant to be a base for customization, but they “also work for many dancers just as they are,” according to the press release.

“It is frustrating to find pointe shoes or ballet slippers that match my skin tone because there just aren’t any that completely match my skin tone,” says Tamisha Guy, dancer and rehearsal director at Abraham In Motion, and a Princess Grace Award recipient. “I usually search for ballet slippers that may come close to my skin tone and add additional foundation for a perfect match, which is quite a process and can take up to an hour to make it look like they came that way.”

Gaynor Minden is known for pointe shoe innovations, but has a controversial reputation with ballet dancers, because its shoes are made of elastomeric plastic, not the traditional paper and glue. The argument with ballet purists is that it’s “cheating” to dance in the shoes, because their muscles don’t have to work as hard to relevé onto their toes. That being said, tons of professionals at top companies (from Gillian Murphy in American Ballet Theater to the prima ballerinas in the all-male ballet company, The Trocks) wear and love their pieces.

The latest breakthrough has been met with pretty much only positive responses, and people are commenting on Facebook that they can’t wait to buy the shoes, and tagging friends that they think would appreciate it. One commenter on Facebook noted that they should rename the shoes to “Misty” and “Tallchief” to honor two famous dancers who are women of color, Misty Copeland and Maria Tallchief.

The only request is for more companies to do this, because not every dancer wears Gaynor Minden shoes. In the meantime, we’ll consider this one small step for ballerinas, and one giant jeté for ballet history.

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