Racism in the Dance World via Costuming

Yesterday I watched my little sister perform in her last dance recital before moving to L.A. in the fall to attend AMDA. I could not be more proud of her for going to further her training and to foster further love for dance, but the day was not without many thoughts. One thought that kept going through my mind as I watched the dance recital was the erasure of girls of color through the pink ballet and “tan” tights and shoes.

Pink and “tan” tights and ballet, jazz, and tap shoes are obviously catered toward white dancers; given Iowa’s demographic, white people do make up most of the state, and so many young white dancers attend studios in Iowa. However, just because the majority are white does not mean the racial minorities are to be ignored, and that blind ignorance is what I saw during the recital yesterday.

There were at least three young Black girls in several dances who, instead of wearing tights that matched their skin tone, were forced to wear these pink and “tan” tights and shoes. There was at least one little Brown girl in a couple of dances who had to wear these pink and “tan” tights and shoes as well. And I ask why this was allowed, by the instructors, the dance studio owner, and the class itself. These tights and shoes obviously do not match the skin color of these girls, yet they are wearing the skin color of their white peers, as though the studio disguising the bottom half of them will help them blend in more with their white peers.

This goes further than the studio itself. On the Danskin website under the “Dance” section, the colors of tights for are classified as “toast,” “light toast,” “classical toast,” “theatrical pink,” “ballet pink,” and “white” (as in the color white, not skin tone). The “toasts” are the “tan” tights, still geared primarily toward white people. The dance world, at least in America, seems very exclusive and white-centric. Despite all of America’s claims that we are “a melting pot” and that we value diversity, that is a big lie.

After talking with my sister about this, she reminisced on a friend she had, who participated in last year’s recital. This friend is a young Black woman, and she used foundation to alter the color of her “tan” bra and tights. She ordered special shoes to match her skin tone. She went to all this work to make sure she is seen as who she is. My sister said the little girls from this year may have had the choice to wear the pink and “tan” tights and shoes or to special order/dye their own, but that is still a systemic problem in and of itself.

As a former young dancer in my preteen and early teen years, I never understood what girls and women of color must endure, what extra they do to just be recognized as themselves when it comes to the dance world due to my white privilege. Now as a young woman I finally see and recognize it, and I hope my speaking out will encourage discussion among artists about how to make our creative spaces more inclusive, as well as among businesses like Danskin to diversify the clothing they sell to suit all women, not just white women.

More here.

Published by Alyssa C.

Writer & theatre artist from Iowa. Currently quarantining in the Pacific Northwest. MA in Intercultural Communication Studies from Shanghai Theatre Academy (expected 2021).

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