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That’s one pointe for the ballerinas

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Rebecca Mennecke

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Finally, skin-tone pointe shoes for ballerinas of color

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That’s one pointe for the ballerinas

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Women loves their shoes, so the stereotype goes, but no woman loves — or needs to love — her shoes quite like a ballerina.

According to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, a professional ballerina can wear through 100 to 120 pairs of pointe shoes in a single season. At about $80 per pair, this means a ballerina can wear through nearly $10,000 in a season.

Ballet shoes, it seems, are crucial for every good ballerina.

So, it would make sense that ballet shoes — and good ballet shoes at that — are available for every type of ballerina. For many, many years, this was sadly not the case.

The New York Times reported that pointe shoes came around in roughly the 1800s in a pale white color, to emphasize the “ghostly” appearance of the ballerinas. The pinkish color came around later to compliment European women’s complexion. The shoes are meant to match the skin tone.

This wasn’t a problem until Misty Copeland took the world by storm as the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Her shoes didn’t match her skin complexion, and this posed a problem for ballet companies who want their ballerinas to look uniform.  

Like Copeland, many black ballerinas felt the effects of a racially exclusive form of dance. Ingrid Silva, a ballerina of Dance Theatre said she used to use spray paint to change the color of her pointe shoes, but since they were too stiff and “crunchy,” she switched to using cheap drugstore foundation to cover her pointe shoes.

Remember how I mentioned professional ballerinas go through at least 100 pairs of shoes per season? Imagine painting every single pair by hand. That process is not only tedious, but it puts black ballerinas at a disadvantage when they could be using all of that time for something else.

Almost 200 years later, black ballerinas can rejoice in their own small victory: Freed of London, ballet shoe company, has released two new pointe shoe colors: brown and bronze.

According to People, the company joined with Ballet Black, a ballet company that encourages people of color in dance. Their mission was to create shoes for people with darker complexions and mixed-race individuals.

The New York Times added that Freed is not the first company to create shoes for black ballerinas — Gaynor Minden from the United States has been selling darker pointe shoes for a little more than a year. But Freed, a much larger company, makes black pointe shoes more accessible.

I’m a huge advocate of little girls being able to achieve the things that they want to achieve. When I was younger, I dreamed of being a nurse, a teacher, a writer, and my parents encouraged me to do whatever my heart told me to do. But, as a white woman, I have been afforded the privilege of having more advantages that propel my dreams.

Black little girls often don’t have these same privileges, and not having black pointe shoes was one of them.

Like Rihanna’s new makeup line with colors from the palest colors to the darkest colors, I have to ask why pointe shoes haven’t been given more attention like makeup has? Ballerinas clearly have a need for them.

In any case, this is one step in the right direction for a more inclusive culture of arts in which black women can accomplish their dreams with more ease than before.

Mennecke can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Writer
Rebecca Mennecke, Chief Copy Editor

Rebecca "Becca" Mennecke is a second-year creative writing student with a minor in journalism and is stoked to be the Chief Copy Editor of The Spectator this semester. When not checking articles and papers for grammatical errors, Becca can be found curled up with a good book, organizing as a form of procrastination, and watching Supernatural on Netflix.

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That’s one pointe for the ballerinas