Ballet dancers are known for their empathy and willingness to improve, so it is no surprise that many are educating themselves about the environment and incorporating sustainable habits into their lives. "I recently read that there are more microplastics in our oceans than there are stars in our galaxy. That really hit me," says American Ballet Theatre corps member Scout Forsythe, who has been making an effort to be more environmentally conscious.
Although no one can fix the climate crisis on their own, we can make small, everyday changes to help decrease waste, consumption and emissions. Here are some suggestions for dancers looking to do their part in helping our planet.
Cut down on packaging waste: Forsythe packs a reusable water bottle (with a lot of stickers on it so she won't lose it), reusable baggies and a cutlery kit in her dance bag. "I always have my fork, knife and spoon at the studio," she says. "That way, if you do decide to go out, you already have utensils—those little steps make a big impact." Bringing food in reusable containers like mason jars or Tupperware, and using beeswax wrapping paper instead of plastic wrap, cuts down on packaging waste.
Look into sustainable dancewear: The Royal Ballet first soloist Mayara Magri says she's become more intentional about her wardrobe by wearing more sustainable clothing and dancewear. This inspired her to team up with Imperfect Pointes, which uses materials made from regenerated ocean plastics and landfills, and is the first fully sustainable dance brand in the UK. "Their Instagram page has lots of ideas that challenge the minds of young dancers to think about what we can do," says Magri.
Royal Ballet first soloist Mayara Magri wearing an Imperfect Pointes "Alexandria" leotard, made of sustainable materials.
Courtesy Imperfect Pointes
Consume less, donate and buy used: Magri also tries to buy less and donates old clothing instead of throwing it away. "If you're going to buy something, you should know where it comes from and where it's going," she says. Forsythe recommends thrifting as an alternative to buying new—either in person or digitally, on platforms like Poshmark or Depop.
Consider your toe pads: Dancers on pointe have additional choices to make when it comes to shoe and foot products. Instead of reaching for paper towels, Michelle Lebowski, freelance dancer and creator of Ballerinas of Los Angeles, uses the tips of old socks as toe pads. "I use my dad's old socks because they're a little bit thicker," she says. "They're nice and malleable, but they don't rip."
Smart sewing: Forsythe sews her pointe shoe ribbons and elastics with cotton crochet thread, which is an organic material and can decompose, instead of dental floss, which is made from plastic. She also encourages dancers to ditch plastic lighters and switch to matches to singe the edges of their ribbons—lighters will end up in the landfill.
Reuse your ribbons and elastics: All three dancers say they reuse their ribbons and elastic. They can be washed either on a gentle cycle or by hand, so they can still look new if you choose to reuse.
Compost your pointe shoes: For eco-warriors who compost, try including your pointe shoes! Most are made from natural materials (like satin, burlap and cardboard), so Lebowski had great success composting hers. Originally wanting to repurpose her shoes as flower planters, she left them outside in her garden and soon noticed the worms were breaking them down. Shoes without a plastic shank and made with traditional satin should decompose—just be sure to remove the ribbons and elastic (including any elastic drawstring), and the metal nail from the shank.
Make a Mindset Shift
The most important step to take towards sustainability is changing your mindset. "It's about taking that self-assessment of 'What am I doing and how can I change?' It's not about being perfect, it's about doing better," says Forsythe. Using deodorant in plastic-free packaging or searching for cruelty-free or vegan makeup are examples that dancers might not think about but make an impact.
It's also important to connect with fellow dancers—be vocal and get your school or company involved. Magri shares that at The Royal Ballet, the company chose to stop buying plastic cups, encouraging everyone to bring a reusable bottle. At ABT, the women have a "giveaway box" in their locker room, where they put old dancewear they no longer need but that someone else in the company might want. Carpooling to the studio or theater is a great way to cut emissions, and also allows dancers time to connect with each other. Magri says, "Ballet can be so egocentric, but looking out of your bubble and being more aware of what's going on around you will make you a better dancer."