New Technique Shoes for Dark-Skinned Dancers

Eric Underwood in Christopher Wheeldon's Electric Counterpoint. Johan Persson, Courtesy ROH.

What color is a flesh-toned technique shoe? Usually it's a light tan, which doesn't leave much wiggle room for dancers with darker skin. While it's common for dancers to pancake their shoes to match their skin tone, the fact that "flesh"-colored shoes only come in a few shades—all of which are light—sends a strong message to dancers with darker skin. It tells them that even though they're working just as hard, and dancing the same roles as their lighter-skinned colleagues, their specific needs are less important.


Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood (who is African-American) took to Instagram to vent his frustration over constant pancaking. After tagging several dance wear companies in a video showing his pancaking preparation, he asked the companies to make more than one "flesh-toned" shoe. Bloch was the only company that publicly responded to his post and, because Underwood spoke up, the company now makes canvas technique shoes in the color "Eric Tan." According to the BBC, the shoes will soon be on sale. It's a small step toward honoring the people who keep ballet alive by taking class, rehearsing and performing; who need tools of the trade that flatter their bodies, no matter what their skin color is.

Ballet Training
Kali Kleiman performing at YAGP's New York Finals. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

As someone who has judged many ballet competitions, I've had the opportunity to see some breathtaking contemporary solos that combine fantastic technique with well-conceived choreography. Yet it's often hard for us judges to see the artistic intention behind these solos the way we can when watching a classical variation. For one thing, we're simply more familiar with classical ballet's repertoire and characters. But also, when a contemporary solo is just a string of one trick after another, or only delivers one emotion (such as overwrought angst), we don't get to see any artistic depth.

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Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy

When you're looking for a ballet program to take you to the next level, there are a lot of factors to consider. While it's tempting to look for the biggest name that will accept you, the savvy dancer knows that successful training has more to do with the attention and opportunities you'll get.

We put together a few of the most important things for dancers to look for in a summer or year-round training program, with the help of the experts at Colorado Ballet Academy:

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Ballet Stars
Elle Macy in Benjamin Millepied's Appassionata. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Cross-training misconceptions: Before Elle Macy became an apprentice with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was apprehensive about cross-training. "I was warned that it might bulk you, or not to do certain activities because they could potentially injure you." But a stress fracture in her foot changed her perspective. Unable to bear much weight, Macy reluctantly tried stationary biking at her physical therapist's suggestion. "What I learned is that you're not going to get injured from being on an elliptical for 20 minutes or by taking a Pilates class," says Macy. Today, it's not uncommon to find the soloist training on the elliptical, doing ankle stability exercises, using the Pilates reformer or taking a hot yoga class.

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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