The New York Times: Brown point shoes arrive, 200 years after white ones

The New York Times, November 4, 2018: Brown point shoes arrive, 200 years after white ones 

For nearly her whole career, Cira Robinson has — like many ballet dancers of color — performed a ritual: Painting her point shoes to match her skin.

She did it first in 2001, when she was 15, at a summer program with Dance Theater of Harlem. The company said her shoes needed to be brown, not the traditional pink, but she couldn’t find any in stores, so she used spray paint.

But now, Ms. Robinson — a senior artist at Ballet Black, a British dance company — is no longer obliged to do so. In October, Freed of London, which supplies her shoes, started selling two point shoes specifically for dancers of color: One brown, the other bronze.

The new shoes have been welcomed. “This isn’t about shoes, this is about who belongs in ballet and who doesn’t,” said Virginia Johnson, the artistic director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, in a phone interview. “It’s a signal that the world is open to you.”

Freed could not estimate how many of its new shoes it expects to sell. “We have to be realistic,” said Sophie Simpson, its ballet company sales manager. “If you look at most companies, the number of black or mixed-race dancers is small. We hope that’ll change.”

Ms. Robinson of Ballet Black was involved in the shoes’ development, testing them for wear and their shades. “This is the first time in my career I haven’t had to do something to my shoes,” she said.

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