Ballet Careers

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.

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