In April 2019, after hundreds of years of pointe ballet shoes only coming in the classic satin pink, Ballet Black collaborated with shoemaker Freed to create the UK’s first pointe shoes in colors to match Black and Mixed-Race skin tone.
According to The Guardian, Freed is one of the world’s leading pointe shoe brands, hand-making 300,000 pairs a year. But, until now, every one of them was pale, peachy pink. The ballet shoe was originally designed to look as if the dancer had bare feet, foot, and leg in one seamless line, but of course, dancers don’t come in one standard-issue color.
US company Gaynor Minden launched a new color range in 2017, but Freed has always been a favorite brand among professionals – and when you find the shoe that works, you tend to stick with it.
Well, Ballerina Kira Robinson (@Kiraelon) recently went viral on TikTok when she posted her reaction to receiving a pair of pointe shoes that matched her skin tone. The video, which has received over 1.4 million views since it was posted in January, shows the eighteen-year-old beaming with delight upon opening the gift.
The video received thousands of comments sharing her excitement. “I received a lot of comments on my TikTok about how representation is super necessary in the dance world and how a lot of people don’t have that or see that often,” she told Good Morning America.
Robinson explained that, in the past, she had to ‘pancake’ her shoes, meaning she would use makeup to essentially dye her shoes to make them match her skin tone.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating and annoying, but it’s just how it is,” she told the outlet, adding that she has done the practice for two years. “The dance world is slow to accept POC dancers, and I’ve just had to deal with it and do what I need to do to perform.”
Robinson explained that she had purchased her darker skin tone shoes from the company Suffolk. “I was ecstatic when I realized Suffolk was releasing new shoes,” she told GMA. “I’ve been wearing pink ones ever since I was a young girl, but when I heard they were creating brown ones, I couldn’t believe it. I knew I had to grab a pair.”
While the shoes may not mean that much to some, ballet shoes specifically altered to include POC is a massive step for the industry in the direction of diversity and inclusivity.
“I think we are seeing more diversity in products because of the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “A lot of people were fed up with companies’ lack of effort in diversifying their brand and it has taken a long time to see that change. Many have signed and sent petitions to ballet brands to create more colors in their products, and Suffolk was one that heard our plea and started making those changes.”
“When they see me in brown tights and pointe shoes, it can be inspiring for them,” she added. “I hope that people will look up to me and realize there can always be a brown ballerina on the stage.”