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What to Watch: Misty Copeland and Ingrid Silva Push Pointe Shoe Brands Toward Inclusivity on "The Today Show"

Ingrid Silva pancakes her pointe shoes. Still via YouTube.

Yesterday, pointe shoes made national news when "The Today Show" covered the shift that some brands have made towards creating shoes in shades of brown. The five-minute Sunday Spotlight segment, hosted by NBC's Willie Geist and Morgan Radford, includes interviews with Misty Copeland, Ingrid Silva, Virginia Johnson and Eliza Gaynor Minden.


Silva, a star dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, shows her pancaking process, and shares her wish that more pointe shoe brands would catch up so that she could skip this painstaking extra step. Radford explains Arthur Mitchell's decision in the 1970s to have his Dance Theatre of Harlem ballerinas dye their shoes to match their skin tone; Johnson, the company's current artistic director and a founding member, shares her memory of the impact of that first performance. "When the curtain went up you saw a range of people in all different skin tones," she says. "It was the most exquisite thing to see."

Copeland points out that buying shoes that come in only one color–"European pink"–says so much about ballet's historical lack of diversity, and sends an underlying message to young dancers. Radford highlights Gaynor Minden as the first company to debut shoes in shades of brown, thanks to its founder Eliza Gaynor Minden's steadfast commitment to inclusivity. More recently, Freed of London announced its collaboration with BalletBlack to create the first diverse skin tone pointe shoes in the U.K.

While this move towards increased inclusivity isn't news to most bunheads, it's always exciting to see issues of importance to the ballet community elevated to the national stage. Geist ends the segment with the hope that more brands catch on soon. Check it out now!

Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

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Ballet Stars
Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

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Ballet Training
Getty Images

I'm a college freshman, and my dance program isn't challenging enough. We only have ballet three times a week and a few hours of modern, and my classmates aren't as dedicated as I am. There's a small dance company nearby, where I was hoping to take extra classes, but I don't have a car. I want to transfer, but I feel like I won't be in good enough shape for auditions. —Tara

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