Brown Point Shoes Arrive, 200 Years After White Ones
For nearly her whole career, Cira Robinson has ― like many ballet dancers of color ― performed a ritual: Painting her point shoes to match her skin.
She did it first in 2001, when she was 15, at a summer program with Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York. The company said her shoes needed to be brown, not the traditional pink, but she could not find any in stores, so she used spray paint. “It made them crunchy and just … ew,” she said in a telephone interview.
她第一次这么做时，是在2001年。当时她15岁，在纽约参加哈莱姆舞剧院(Dance Theatre of Harlem)的一个项目。舞团说她的鞋子得是棕色的，而不是传统的粉色，但她在商店里找不到棕色鞋子，于是用上了喷漆。“喷漆让鞋子变硬，真是......很恶心，”她通过电话接受采访时说。
When she joined Dance Theatre a few years later, she started using makeup instead. “I’d go to the cheapest stores and get foundation,” she said, the kind “you’d never put on your face as it’d break you out. Like, $2.95 cheap.”
She would go through five tubes a week, sponging it onto 12 to 15 pairs of shoes ― a process known in ballet circles as pancaking. It took 45 minutes to an hour to do a pair, she said, because she wanted to make sure the foundation got into every crevice and covered every bit of ribbon.
Did she find these steps annoying? “I didn’t know any different,” Robinson, 32, said.
But now, Robinson ― a senior artist at Ballet Black, a British dance company ― is no longer obliged to do so. In October, Freed of London, which supplies her shoes, started selling two point shoes specifically for dancers of color: One brown, the other bronze.
但如今，在英国舞团“黑色芭蕾”(Ballet Black)担任资深艺术家的鲁滨逊不再需要这么做了。10月，为她提供舞鞋的Freed of London开始售卖两款专为有色人种舞者设计的足尖鞋：一款是棕色的，另一款是古铜色的。
Freed is not the first firm to make point shoes for dancers of color ― the U.S. company Gaynor Minden has been producing some more than a year ― but the new shoes from Freed, a large supplier in the ballet world, highlight one of the stranger rituals that dancers of color have to perform.
It is also a reminder that black dancers ― especially female ones ― are a rarity in ballet. They remain barely represented at the top of the field, despite some signs of change and an increased awareness of the need for diversity at the schools feeding professional companies.
Shoes are not the only costuming reminders of the lack of diversity in ballet. In September, Precious Adams, a first artist at English National Ballet, raised the issue of pink tights. “In ballet people have very strong ideas about tradition,” she told London’s Evening Standard newspaper. “They think me wearing brown tights in a tutu is somehow ‘incorrect.'”
鞋子并不是唯一一个提醒人们芭蕾舞界缺乏多元性的服装元素。9月，英国国家芭蕾舞团(English National Ballet)的首席艺术家普雷舍丝・亚当斯(Precious Adams)提出了粉色紧身裤袜的问题。“在芭蕾舞界，人们的传统观念很强，”她告诉伦敦《标准晚报》(Evening Standard)。“他们认为我在蓬蓬裙下穿着棕色紧身裤袜有些‘不正确’”。
“But I want to look my best on stage. I’m not colorblind, and I think it ruins the line of my body.”
Dancers, though, cannot do whatever they like, Adams added. Directors decide on outfits. And often uniformity is a goal.
Dancers in the corps, particularly, have to blend in with the group. Robinson of Ballet Black said dancers of color cannot always wear flesh-colored shoes or tights, if it would make them stand out.
She said she had seen a soloist at the English National Ballet wear brown tights and shoes, when everyone else was in pink ― “but she was a soloist.” (It works differently at Dance Theatre of Harlem and Ballet Black, which are predominantly made up of people of color.)
“We want to shake up tradition a bit,” Robinson said, “but some things you can’t.”
Still, the new shoes have been welcomed. “This isn’t about shoes, this is about who belongs in ballet and who doesn’t,” said Virginia Johnson, artistic director of Dance Theatre, in a phone interview. “It’s a signal that the world is open to you.”
Johnson said she wore pink shoes when she started dancing in the 1950s and thought nothing of it until the ‘70s when Arthur Mitchell, a founder of Dance Theatre, decided his dancers should wear shoes and tights to match their skin. Johnson then started using makeup to paint her shoes.
“It was quite wonderful to be onstage and just to be myself, 100 percent the color I was,” she said, “one line, one shape, a color that has integrity.”
She recalled that Capezio supplied brown shoes for Dance Theatre for a short time, and at one point later the company’s dancers dyed their shoes with a product meant for bridal pumps. “Evangeline Shoe Dye,” Johnson said. “I haven’t thought about that name in years.” But since 2012, most members paint their shoes with acrylic paint, Johnson said. Dance Theatre’s wardrobe master mixes paint to match each dancer’s skin tone.
她回忆起Capezio曾经一度会为哈莱姆舞剧院提供棕色鞋子，后来有段时间，这家公司的舞者用一种原本给新娘鞋用的染料给足尖鞋上色。“伊万杰琳染鞋剂(Evangeline Shoe Dye)，”约翰逊说。“我好多年没想过那个名字了。”但自2012年以来，大多数哈莱姆舞剧院成员会用丙烯颜料给鞋子上色，约翰逊说。哈莱姆舞剧院的服装师会将颜料混合在一起，搭配每个舞者的肤色。
Some dancers in the company still use makeup. Ingrid Silva has posted videos on YouTube showing how she pancakes her shoes to aid young dancers.
“A lot of people complain: It’s a long process, and it’s expensive,” Silva said. “The brand I use ― Black Opal’s ebony brown ― is $11 a bottle, and with that I can do three shoes.” She goes through an average of two pairs of shoes a week, meaning she used to spend $770 a year on makeup for shoes, a significant sum given dancers’ low pay. (Black Opal recently started supplying her free of charge.)
“许多人会抱怨：这个过程很长，也很贵，”席尔瓦说。“我用的那个牌子――Black Opal的乌棕色――是11美元一瓶，这一瓶我能给三双鞋上色。”她每周平均要给两双鞋上色，这意味着她以前每年在给鞋子买化妆品方面要花770美元，由于舞者薪水微薄，这笔钱相当可观。（Black Opal近期开始免费给她供应化妆品。）
Silva, who is from Brazil, said the new shoes for dancers of color were a positive development, but more tones were needed. She cannot use the Freed shoes because they are not her color or style, she said. This echoes calls in the beauty world for wider ranges of foundation to reflect skin tones. (Last year, Rihanna introduced Fenty Beauty, a makeup line that offers 40 foundation colors, to meet that demand).
Shoes are also just one issue, Silva said. “There’s so much more the dance world has to learn,” she added, “starting from companies hiring more dancers of color.”