ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Ballet West sheds tradition, dancers will wear tights that match their skin color

Oct 4, 2020, 4:36 PM
Ballet West new tights...
FILE: Ballet West - 13 Offenbach in the underworld © Douglas Robertson

SALT LAKE CITY — The artistic director of Salt Lake City’s premier ballet company says this isn’t about being “woke.” Instead, Adam Sklute says “this is how an old world Northern European imperialistic art form can be a 21st-century art form for everyone.”

Specifically, Sklute is talking about the revelation he had when watching his troupe perform.  “[We have this] wonderfully diverse group of women, they have all of these different colors up top, and all of them had pink legs and feet,” Sklute said.

“I said, ‘that really does look weird.’ They should continue their lines, and look their proper color all the way across their bodies.”

Sklute conducted a 3-month audit at Ballet West to determine what they needed to do.  This resulted in sweeping changes to what their dancers will wear. 

More than just new tights

Now, Ballet West will match the dancer’s tights to the color of their skin.  In addition, the company will dye pointe shoes and flat shoes to match the dancer’s skin.  Ballet West will do the same thing with dress- and shoe-straps, as well as makeup.  The company will not have a dancer use makeup that points to an ethnicity other than their own.  And the traditional “paling” makeup will also no longer be used.  

Bucking Tradition

Ballet West isn’t alone. Sklute says these kinds of changes “just haven’t been done [in the States.] I can name [the other companies] on less than one hand.” 

He says some companies may be reluctant to revise how their dancers look, and for a couple of reasons.  One is the long history of classical dance. Sklute says the pink tights and shoes didn’t begin as ‘racist.’ “When classical ballet began, in all fairness, it was an all Caucasian art form. ” And as time marched on … the trappings of that didn’t change.  “It has been historical, that no matter what their race, dancers will wear pink tights and pink shoes.”

The other reason is practical. “There is a cost factor involved.”

More satisfying for crowd and performers

Sklute says this “will ultimately eliminate a question from my perspective.”  A question that he says many ballet patrons occasionally ask, which is, “why does that brown girl have on pink tights?”

But, Sklute seems to be more passionate about the effect this will have on his dancers.  “I have a wonderfully diverse company.  I want to celebrate them across the board.”

“From a performer’s perspective, I can tell you that when my dancers of color are allowed to look like the people that they are on stage, their confidence level goes up.  And they feel more like the artists they are supposed to be when they are in their own skin.”

 

 

 

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Ballet West sheds tradition, dancers will wear tights that match their skin color