Is Classical Ballet Ready to Embrace Flesh-Tone Tights?
Recently, English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams announced that she will no longer be wearing pink tights. With the support of her artistic director Tamara Rojo, she will instead wear chocolate brown tights (and shoes) that match her flesh tone.
It may seem like a simple change, but this could be a watershed moment—one where the aesthetics of ballet begin to expand to include the presence of people of color.
With all the work being done worldwide to increase the number of black dancers in ballet, it was only a matter of time before we got here. Bare legs and flesh tone shoes are commonplace in contemporary ballet but in classical and neoclassical ballet, pink tights and shoes remain a linchpin.
Today, all DTH dancers—including students—wear flesh-colored tights. Photo by Joseph Rodman, courtesy DTH
Dance Theatre of Harlem first debuted flesh-tone tights and shoes in 1974 on the back leg of a European tour. Dancer Llanchie Stevenson was the catalyst: From her first days in the company, she consistently implored Arthur Mitchell to allow them to wear tights and shoes that matched their skin color. Stevenson explains, "One day I noticed that my arms were a different color than my legs, I thought that I looked so disjointed. I started wearing brown tights over my pink tights." Mitchell liked it so much he decided that all dancers had to wear tights to match their skin. The decision was a declaration of ownership of the art form, and a redefinition of classism.
Where did the tradition of pink tights come from anyway? In the 1790s, Austrian ballet dancer Maria Viganó shocked Parisian audiences when she and her brother Salvatore performed in sheer white muslin tunics, her legs covered by flesh pink hosiery that gave the appearance of nakedness. At the time, the Paris Opéra banned "nude pink" due to social concerns, but by the end of the 19th century, pink tights were the norm. The intent was to have both the hosiery and shoes disappear, and back then, pink was as tastefully close to nude as they could get without having the theaters burned down in scandal.
Since then, little thought has been given to this tradition, but it is safe to say that the sole reason ballet tights and shoes are pink is because at the time the tradition started, all of the dancers were white. As racial uniformity decreases, should we not reevaluate the relevance of pink tights and shoes? Could it not be argued that the actual "tradition" is that the tights and shoes should match the dancer's complexion?
Most of the arguments against flesh-tone tights center around the preservation of the classical aesthetic of uniformity. It could be said that brown tights work for DTH because they are a group of dancers of color, therefore the brown tights are in a sense uniform. But when there are only one or two dancers in the corps wearing brown tights, some believe that it "breaks the line."
This begs the question: How much difference is there between a brown arm and head and a brown leg in a line? Not much. But there are directors who still see discernible brownness in the corps to be problematic.
In the mid-1980s when Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson (not related to Llanchie) cast an up-and-coming Lauren Anderson in his ballet Peer Gynt, it was the first time her skin tone was artistically discussed. "The costume was a unitard that went from (white) flesh tone to green, when I put it on it didn't look right, so they dyed the legs to match my skin, and that was the first time that it was done," says Anderson. Stevenson was also open to her wearing her natural hair in the role so long as it was thematically tied-in.
Later, during a Nutcracker tech rehearsal, Stevenson found that Anderson's legs in pink tights as Sugarplum appeared grey under the lights. They decided to test a few shades of brown but none looked right. "Finally, Ben said, 'Call Dance Theatre of Harlem and find out what they use.' That was music to my ears," Anderson recalls.
Once she had done Sugarplum with brown tights and shoes, she says, "It didn't make sense for me to go back." As she rose through the ranks to principal, Anderson wore a variety of shades depending on the role: pink if she was in the corps or in a Balanchine work, tan for classical ballets or a richer brown—more her real complexion—in her principal roles.
Tights are just the beginning when companies are seeking to truly honor diversity. The myriad technical considerations for dancers of color extends to costuming, hair, make-up and lighting. "You light the set and costumes perfectly, you have to light the dancers as well," says Anderson. "All of my partners had to contend with an extra spot on them when they danced with me."
If companies want to be inclusive, artistic teams can no longer be on auto-pilot. It requires seeing productions with fresh eyes, possibly reconsidering the blonde wigs, certain hair hairstyles, and even scenery (when Anderson danced Cinderella, Houston Ballet created new portrait of a black mother). "As part of my artistic vision, I wanted to find a natural look for all my dancers. Pink tights are traditional, but it was important to me that we found something that was natural for Lauren," says Ben Stevenson.
Pacific Northwest's artistic director Peter Boal learned the impact of having an open dialogue with dancers of color when he asked student Samrawit Saleem how she wanted to wear her natural hair for the role of Clara. The Nutcracker photo of her double strand twist went viral.
Samrawit Saleem, photo by Angela Sterling, via PNB
A by-product of inviting others in is that you have to engage with them and take their feelings and experiences into consideration. You must ask people what would make them feel included, not assume you know. It requires that you authentically, with empathy and compassion, examine the conditions that you have been operating out of and be willing to let go of some and redesign others.
When you are seeking change, you can't expect things to stay the same. When ballet organizations started their journey toward diversity, most were solely focused on increasing the number of brown bodies on stage. However, it is becoming clear that the issues run far deeper. Inclusion requires integration. Ballet is learning that you can't just add brown bodies, you have to change the culture. But we can start can start to rebuild from the ground up with shoes and tights.
Adji Cissoko has the alchemical blend of willowy limbs and earthy musicality you expect from a dancer in Alonzo King LINES Ballet. But she also has something more—a joy in dancing that makes every step feel immediate.
"She has this soulful quality of an ancient spirit coming through her body," says LINES chief executive officer Muriel Maffre, a former prima ballerina with San Francisco Ballet. "She's fearless, which is fun to work with," says artistic director Alonzo King. "I don't know how to put it into words— she's herself."
So you're on layoff—or, let's be real, you just don't feel like going to the studio—and you decide you're going to take class from home. Easy enough, right? All you need is an empty room and some music tracks on your iPhone, right?
Wrong. Anyone who has attempted this feat can tell you that taking class at home—or even just giving yourself class in general—is easier said than done. But with the right tools, it's totally doable—and can be totally rewarding.
When Jan Fabre's troupe Troubleyn presents his Mount Olympus: To glorify the cult of tragedy (a 24 hour performance) at NYU Skirball tomorrow it does so under a heavy cloud of controversy.
Fabre is a celebrated Belgian multidisciplinary artist who has been honored as Grand Officer in the Order of the Crown, one of the country's highest honors. His visual art has been displayed at the Louvre and at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. According to The New York Times, his dance company, Troubleyn, receives about $1 million a year from the Belgian government.
But in an open letter posted to Belgian magazine Rekto Verso just a few months ago, 20 of his company's current and former dancers outline a horrific culture of sexual harassment, bullying and coercion. This comes on the heels of similar accusations at New York City Ballet and Paris Opèra Ballet.
It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are artists AND athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
Earlier this week, New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck gave us some major onstage makeup inspiration while attending an offstage event. While walking the red carpet at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund gala, Peck's beauty look was still perfectly suited for the ballet with her top knot hairstyle and stage-worthy red lip. Peck's makeup artist for the night, Daniel Duran, shared his exact breakdown on the look, working exclusively with beauty brand Chantecaille. So, whether you're in need of a waterproof brow pencil, volumizing mascara or long-lasting red lip this Nutcracker season, we've got you covered.
There's a new tool that lets amputee ballet dancers perform on pointe. As reported in Dezeen, an architecture and design magazine, industrial designer Jae-Hyun An has created a prosthesis he calls the "Marie . T" (after Marie Taglioni, of course) that allows dancers with below-the-knee amputations to do pointe work.
A carbon fiber calf absorbs shock while a stainless steel toe and rubber platform allow a dancer to both turn and grip the floor to maintain balance. What it doesn't allow the dancer to do? Roll down to demi-pointe or flat.
Former chair of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts dance department Linda Tarnay died on Tuesday, November 6. Her wish was to have her ashes interred in the columbarium at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery—the site of Danspace Project and just a few blocks away from the Tisch dance building.
Before her 35 years of teaching at NYU, Tarnay was a founding member of Dance Theater Workshop. She performed with choreographers like Anna Sokolow, Phyllis Lamhut and Jamie Cunningham. She also started her own company, Linda Tarnay and Dancers, and was an artist-in-residence at The Yard.
Margaret Selby never dreamed that her passion for dance would lead her everywhere from working on live TV specials like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to producing hip-hop musical Jam on the Groove, from Columbia Artists Management, Inc., to public TV's "Great Performances: Dance in America."
Now, through her company Selby/Artists MGMT, she helps clients like Dorrance Dance, MOMIX and Pacific Northwest Ballet navigate the behind-the-scenes elements that get their work onstage, like booking tours, marketing and planning upcoming seasons.
According to the new documentary DANSEUR, 85% of males who study dance in the United States are bullied or harassed. A quote in the film from Dr. Doug Risner, faculty member at Wayne State University, states, "If this scope of bullying occurred in any activity other than dance, it would be considered a public health crisis by the CDC."
So why is it allowed to persist in ballet? And why aren't we talking about it more? These are the questions that DANSEUR seeks to answer. But primarily consisting of dance footage and interviews with male dancers like ABT's James Whiteside, Houston Ballet's Harper Watters and Boston Ballet's Derek Dunn, the film only addresses these issues superficially, with anecdotes about individual experiences and generalizations about what it's like to be a male dancer.
When you're unable to dance, it's easy to feel like you're falling behind and losing out on opportunities. But this can be a time to reset your body and come back even stronger, says Ilana Goldman, BFA program director at Florida State University's School of Dance. "Some of the greatest leaps I made in my technique happened because of injuries," she says. "Learning how to deal with them is part of being a professional dancer."
Dancers are human, which means they're bound to make mistakes from time to time, both on and off the stage. But what happens when those mistakes burn bridges? In an industry so small, is it possible for choreographers and performers to recover?In a moment of vulnerability, three-time Emmy Award winning choreographer Mia Michaels opened up to Dance Magazine about some of the bridges she herself has burned, the lengths she's gone to in order to rebuild and the peace she's made with the new direction her career has taken because of them. —Haley Hilton
Are auditions rigged? Sometimes I see mediocre dancers make it into a company, and I just don't get it. The audition process is unnerving for me without feedback or any understanding of the rules.
—Madison, Santa Monica, CA
Raise your hand if you've received bad advice from well-meaning friends or family (or strangers, tbh) who don't know anything about what it really takes to be a dancer.
*everyone raises hands*
Sometimes it's even dance insiders whose advice can send you down the wrong path. We've been asking pros about the worst advice they've ever received in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and rounded up some of the best answers:
Where in the world is Miko Fogarty? Just three years ago, she seemed unstoppable. After being featured in the 2011 ballet documentary First Position, she became a teenage social-media star, winning top prizes at competitions in Moscow and Varna and at Youth American Grand Prix, and dancing in galas around the world. Last most of us heard, it was 2015 and she had just joined the corps of Birmingham Royal Ballet. A year later, she dropped off the ballet radar.
Turns out Fogarty, now 21, was taking time off to reevaluate her life, including the role she wanted ballet to play in it. She is now starting her junior year as a biology major at University of California—Berkeley and is considering going to medical school. (Her brother and fellow First Position subject, 19-year-old Jules, is a junior in the Berkeley economics department.) On the side she teaches private ballet lessons and gives master classes, and is the part-time conservatory director at San Jose Dance International, a new school in the San Francisco Bay Area led by artistic director Yu Xin. We caught up with her by phone.
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
In dance, pushing through pain is often glorified. Dancers can be reluctant to take time off when sick or injured for fear of missing out on opportunities. It can feel even harder to justify when the pain isn't physical. Though it's becoming more commonly acknowledged that mental health is just as important as physical health, a dance career doesn't leave much time to address mental or emotional issues.
But dancers need to take care of their mental well-being to be able to perform at their best, says Catherine Drury, a licensed clinical social worker for The Dancers' Resource at The Actors Fund. So what can you do if you need a mental health day?
The fall performance season continues at breakneck speed with everything from an international ballet company making its U.S. debut to a retrospective on one of New York City's most iconic dancemakers—not to mention more than a few intriguing new works. Here's what we've got pencilled in.
Yabin Wang converts movement into liquid that spills across the stage. A celebrity in her home country of China, this choreographer, dancer and actress has helped to pioneer modern dance there by blending Chinese classical and contemporary dance. Wang's international career was kick-started in 2010 at American Dance Festival, where she returned this summer to perform on a shared program with Michelle Dorrance, Aparna Ramaswamy, Rhapsody James and Camille A. Brown. She has also worked with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on Genesis and was commissioned by English National Ballet to create a piece for its Olivier Award–winning She Said program. This month, she is back stateside for the U.S. premiere of her Moon Opera, Nov. 3 in Pittsburgh.
It's the casting news we didn't know we needed until we heard it. Ever since it was announced that Wayne McGregor would be choreographing the new film adaptation of CATS, we've been anxiously waiting to hear whether any recognizable names from the dance world would be joining the A-list cast (which, in case you missed it, already includes Jennifer Hudson, Sir Ian McKellan, Taylor Swift and James Corden). But never in our wildest dreams did we think that a Royal Ballet principal would be the first dancer to sign on.
The wait for Disney's reimagining of The Nutcracker is over. Although The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is not a full-length ballet, woven into the plot is a five-minute performance by megastars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin alongside 18 supporting dancers, with a CGI Mouse King moved by jookin sensation Lil Buck (aka Charles Riley). Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett led the film's choreography in his first major motion picture experience. "It was a call I didn't expect to get," says Scarlett. "I really am the biggest Disney fan, so I couldn't believe it!"