I remember when I encountered the color cinnamon. Such warmth and comfort instantly saturated my soul. It was the summer of 2015, a time I will never forget, and I was trying on my first pair of flesh-tone tights. The band fit perfectly on my waist with such a calm gentleness. They were tights that looked like me—not ballet pink, the color that many were taught could be the only one in the ballet world. It was me, all the way from my head to my toes. No breaks, perfect continuity.
Earlier that year, I'd auditioned for Dance Theatre of Harlem's summer intensive. The Black-owned company had changed the face of ballet and was filled with so many people that looked like me. Their dancers' complexions range from dark chocolate and sun-kissed to sweet caramel, vanilla and more. They represent the endless palette and possibilities of shades of skin that can—and should—exist in the dance world.
I knew that the DTH School was a place I wanted to, I needed to, get into. The day I found out I got accepted into the summer intensive I could not believe it. A dream that once felt so far away was suddenly so close. I'd be able to look around and see people who looked like me with such hope and security that I belonged. I knew, without a doubt, that this was the beginning of forming my sense of self and identity in this art form.
On the first day of the four-week summer intensive, I was nervous but eager to work on my craft. The moment I turned the corner of 155th Street, my heart sped up. Gentle spots of perspiration began to form like beads on my forehead. My clammy hands could not stop fidgeting. This was it. I had read about Dance Theatre of Harlem, seen them perform, and now here I was, about to become a part of the community.
During orientation, the faculty reviewed the syllabus and requirements. One requirement? "Flesh-tone tights, please, ladies." When I heard this my cheeks rose so quickly because of the smile plastered on my face. I was so happy and comforted that they were enforcing that we wear tights that looked like us. This was an essential factor, but something that I found was constantly lost or considered insignificant in previous programs I had attended—but not this one.
After orientation I headed downstairs to the school's store to look for my tights. The fact that I could even say "my tights" felt so weird, yet right. I was immediately greeted and shown a box entirely filled with flesh-tone tights. It was like heaven on earth. Eventually, after going through each shade, we decided on the perfect match for me: cinnamon. As I read the packaging, the word immediately rolled off my tongue with such liquidity. I instantly was filled with security and joy. This would be my first time wearing my flesh tone.
Once I was finished getting ready for my placement class, I stood in front of the mirror and looked at myself. I saw a beautiful girl. A brown-skinned girl. No breaks from the melanin on my face to all the way down my legs. A tall girl that had just a little more confidence when she stood up and just a little more pride in her heart. A chocolate-kissed, beautiful, tall dancer, and nothing less than that.
I knew I was ready for this placement class now. I was ready to show them who I am without any apologies.