Major dancewear companies, including Bloch and Capezio, are now vowing to make their pointe shoe shades more diverse.

By Faith Brar
Updated September 28, 2020

When you think of ballet shoes, the color pink probably comes to mind. But the predominantly peachy pink shades of most ballet pointe shoes don't exactly match a wide range of skin tones. Briana Bell, a lifelong dancer and recent high school graduate, is trying to change that.

On June 7, Bell took to Twitter urging people to sign a petition that calls on dancewear companies to provide more skin color-inclusive clothing for BIPOC dancers — specifically, pointe shoes with more diverse shades. In her tweet, Bell shared that Black dancers often have to "pancake" their pointe shoes with foundation to match the color of their skin. Their white counterparts, she added, don't bear the same burden.

For Bell, the issue goes beyond the hassle of having to constantly paint your pointe shoes a different color, she said in her Twitter thread. "Black ballerinas have constantly been pushed out of the typically and traditionally white ballet world because our bodies aren't like theirs and this is just another way to make us feel unwanted," she wrote. "This goes further than shoes. Prejudice and racism within the dance community are passive in my experience but very much there. It's not much to ask for shoes to match our skin tones, so please take a few seconds to sign this petition." (Related: The Makeup Industry Is Now More Skin Shade–Inclusive Than Ever)

Granted, some dancewear companies do make skin color-inclusive pointe shoes, including Gaynor Minden and Freed of London. The latter organization recently gifted a pair of ballet pointe shoes to Tene Ward, a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, who was overcome with emotion upon receiving the shoes.

"Feeling overwhelmed but so blessed that this is finally happening," Ward wrote alongside an Instagram video debuting her new pointe shoes, which matched her dark skin tone nearly perfectly. "Thank you @nationalballet and @freedoflondon. This is a level of acceptance and belonging I've never felt before in the ballet world."

For the most part, however, options for skin color-inclusive pointe shoes are still pretty limited. The petition that Bell shared, originally created two years ago by Megan Watson of Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, specifically calls on dancewear company, Capezio — one of the largest and most well-known suppliers of ballet pointe shoes — to "start producing pointe shoes that are made for more than those who have a white or tan skin tone."

"Few manufacturers make brown pointe shoes," reads the petition. "Not only is there very little diversity in ballet itself, but what exacerbates the issue is that there is often zero diversity in shoe shades. If you don't fit the one shade of shoe color, you automatically feel like you don't belong."

The truth is, BIPOC ballerinas have been pancaking their shoes for years, and Bell is far from the first dancer to speak up about it. Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre, has also been vocal about the lack of diversity in pointe shoes. (Related: Misty Copeland Speaks Out Against Under Armour CEO's Pro-Trump Statements)

"There are so many underlying messages that have been sent to people of color from the time ballet was created," she told Today in 2019. "When you buy pointe shoes or ballet slippers, and the color is called European pink, I think that it says so much to young people — that you don't fit in, you don't belong, even if it's not being said."

In the same interview, Ingrid Silva, a Brazilian-born ballerina with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, said that pancaking can be a time-consuming, expensive process — one that she wishes dancewear brands paid more attention to so that BIPOC dancers no longer had to do it. "I could just wake up and put [my pointe shoes] on and dance, you know?" shared Silva.

As of now, the petition Bell shared has gathered over 319,000 signatures. Thanks to her — as well as Silva, Copeland, and other dancers of color who've spoken out to amplify this conversation over the years — this long-overdue issue is finally being addressed. Capezio CEO, Michael Terlizzi recently issued a statement on behalf of the dancewear company, owning up to the brand's shortcomings.

"As a family-owned company, our core values are tolerance, inclusion, and love for all, and we are committed to a dance world free of bias or prejudice," reads the statement. "While we provide our soft ballet slippers, legwear, and bodywear in a variety of different shades and colors, our largest market in pointe shoes, have been traditionally pink."

"We have heard the message of our loyal dance community who want pointe shoes that reflect the color of their skin," the statement continues, adding that Capezio's two most popular pointe shoe styles will be available in a variety of different shades starting in the fall of 2020. (Related: 8 Fitness Pros Making the Workout World More Inclusive — and Why That's Really Important)

Following in Capezio's footsteps, dance company Bloch has also pledged to offer its pointe shoes in darker, more diverse shades: "Whilst we have introduced darker shades into some of our product ranges, we can confirm we will be expanding these shades into our pointe shoe offering which will be available in fall this year."