Ask a Ballerina: From Pointe Shoes to Tutus: Dyeing Your Costumes Nude

We are so excited to post our very 1st piece in the Ask a Ballerina Series. Today's post comes from ballerina Selena Robinson. Today she shares her personal  journey concerning the dyeing of her dance-wear entitled From Pointe Shoes to Tutus: Dyeing Your Costumes Nude.

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     Like every other little girl in ballet class, I was mesmerized by the beautiful tutus and pink pointe shoes. It never occurred to me why the shoes and tights were pink until later on when I was a teenager starting ballet again after a 3 and a half year break.
   When I was younger, I did have issues finding a nude leotard in my color. The head of my studio would personally dye my leotard and of course, at the time, I thought nothing of it. Eventually I found a nude leotard in store closer to my shade. At the same time one issue was solved, another occurred. The shoes in store listed as nude, were not my shade of nude. My teacher once again went to dyeing my shoes personally before I knew anything about using foundation to pancake them. I have been so blessed to have my teacher look out for me when I was a budding dancer, whom without I wouldn't be the dancer I am today. Today, I always keep a pair of dyed flat and pointe shoes in my dance bag just in case. I use Queen Latifah's Covergirl liquid foundation in Q45 to pancake anything that needs dying.
   I remember the first time I heard of DTH (Dance Theatre of Harlem) was unfortunately during their hiatus. It was my last year at my old studio before I would attend the Chicago Academy for the Arts and I had been given a black swan solo in the ballet Rosanella. My choreographer requested that I wear nude tights and shoes. The moment she saw me in full costume, her first words were "So DTH - I love it!" At the time I had never heard of DTH and did not even know what it was an acronym for. I didn't realize who the company was until years later.
   One day while surfing the Ballet Forum, I came across an argument about how difficult it is to find the perfect shade of skin tone tights for African American dancers. I further read about how pink tights came about. Back when the tutus became shorter, tights were used to preserve the modesty of ballet in the courts as well as adding light compression for circulation in our legs and feet. Pink was worn to match the color of the ballerina's skin so her muscles and lines could still be visible. Now it is tradition to wear pink and can seem almost unconventional to wear nude if one is a dancer of color. The article I had found on the Ballet Forum was the first time DTH had returned in my life. I then began to do further research on the company and began to see pictures of beautiful black ballerinas in brown tights and shoes but with classical tutus!
   After deciding to compete in the Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP) this year, one of the first issues was finding a tutu. I distinctly remember a scene in the movie First Position, a documentary about YAGP, when Michaela DePrince's mother had to hand dye all of Michaela's tutus, and straps. I watched as she dipped pieces of elastic in a bucket of dark brown dye and as she carefully began to color in the modesty inset of a white tutu with a brown sharpie. I immediately realized I probably would not be able to rent a tutu if I wanted to dye the straps and modesty inset brown and therefore decided to purchase a customized tutu. Also, being of traditional "black girl shape," hips, butt, bust and all, I also knew my measurements would probably not match up with most of the rental tutus. I ordered my tutu from Ms. Lydia Harmon at Tutu Etoile in California (whom I highly recommend for any tutu needs) and after sending in design ideas and my measurements she asked about the modesty inset. There had been no previous evidence to proclaim my ethnicity and when she asked me if I had more of a pink, orange, or olive undertone, I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. I sent her my head shot as to give her a better idea of my skin tone and when my tutu came in the mail, the modesty inset was perfect. I still had to dye the straps though. I simply used the same foundation I pancake my shoes with but was extremely careful not to get any make up on my white tutu bodice.
       The next issue I encountered, and am still debating over, is what color tights to wear. I am competing the Gulnare act 1 variation from Le Corsaire which consists of a two piece tutu where my stomach is visible. I had done the Odalisque Pas de Trois from Le Corsaire last school year and once again had a two piece tutu but our teachers decided we wear pink tights. For YAGP, I wanted everything to look cohesive and clean and was worried the pink tights would create a choppy, in cohesive look. But I was also worried brown tights and shoes would be unconventional for such a prestigious and political competition. I still have not yet decided which to wear, but I look at Precious Adams, Prix de Lausaunne competitor who whore brown tights and shoes on an international stage. And Misty Copeland, who performs the role of Gulnare in ABT's Le Corsaire wears nude tights and shoes as well. Whether I stick to tradition and wear pink or channel Dance Theatre of Harlem and wear brown, I just want to be comfortable in my beautiful brown skin and dance for myself.
Selena Robinson is a Brown Ballerina from Chicago and has been training for  8 and a half years. She is currently a junior at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. She was a demisoloist in her  school's production of Paquita and has competed in the Youth American Grand Prix Semi Finals in Chicago. Her favorite quotes are: "Everything happens for a reason" - Margaret Vanucci and the song line "Darkness exists to make light truly count" - Sleeping At Last.  You can find her on Instagram and twitter @lenaballerina97.
*Photo courtesy of Selena Robinson.