Today, Ballet West announced sweeping updates to protocols that guide dancers’ costuming, make-up, pointe shoes, and other aspects of performance in order to make the studio and stage more welcoming to dancers of color.

A three-month audit of policies and procedures, conducted by Artistic Director Adam Sklute, in coordination with dancers, costume, make-up, and wardrobe staff revealed several impediments for dancers of color that created unfair challenges, inequitable preparation time, and inadequate representation.

While the Company has received media attention in the past for updating unfair portrayals of other cultures, including the Chinese variation in The Nutcracker, today’s updates are more nuanced; audiences may not necessarily notice, but they ensure Ballet West is a more inclusive and welcoming company for all. Some of these changes include:

  • Eliminating historic ‘paling’ body make-up for women in such roles as Swan Lake and Giselle.
  • Not allowing make-up that attempts to indicate a race or ethnicity, other than the dancer’s own.
  • Tights and shoe straps will be supplied by the Company to artists to more accurately match individual skin tones.
  • The Company will dye pointe shoes and paint slippers to match the skin tone of the dancer

“I believe a more diverse and inclusive organization is a stronger Ballet West,” said Artistic Director Adam Sklute. “It is time we hold a mirror to ourselves and examine how our art form–and how Ballet West–can do better in dismantling systems that do not foster equity, and to institutionalize structures that do.”

The Company is also presenting an ongoing serial panel discussion, “Dismantling Racism in Classical Ballet.” Moderated by Dr. Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, these discussions focus on the challenges artists of color have faced in ballet and present ideas on how the art form can move forward into the 21st century. Panelists have included Ballet West Artists, community members and legendary figures in the dance world, including  Lauren Anderson, Houston Ballet’s first African American Principal Dancer; Debra Austin, the very first African American Principal Dancer in the United States while at Pennsylvania Ballet; Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, first Hispanic American Principal Ballerina at San Francisco Ballet; and Virginia Johnson, founding member and Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Panels can be viewed here:

“With the panel discussions, I wanted to simply create a space for these important conversations to be had,” said Sklute. “The stories being told are fascinating, sometimes unsettling, but always inspiring. By stepping back to listen, I learn so much and become hopeful for the future of our industry.” Sklute adds, “The announcement today is just the beginning. Ballet West will remain proactive, striving for greater equity and inclusion.”