Dance Theatre of Harlem’s tights of another color


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Every little girl likes to go to ballet class dressed in pink tights and slippers.

Isn’t that right?

But what if you’re a girl of color and your skin isn’t pink? And so your ballet tights, rather than mirroring your skin tone and elongating the line of your leg, well, they just jar?


This mundane problem became symbolic for pioneering black ballet star Arthur Mitchell when he launched Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969. Under Mitchell’s instruction, the ballet company’s costumers dyed lycra tights and spray-painted pointe shoes with hues of brown, honey and cinnamon, dyeing the satin ribbons too.

Out marched a parade of leggy ballerinas garbed for the real world. Now a common practice, this “reality” skin tone trend began at DTH.

Tights and shoes occupy only one small corner of a comprehensive historic exhibit, “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts,” on view until July 4 at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. The show, a must-see for dance lovers, tours the vibrant troupe’s artistic history, which showcased the work of the most important American choreographers of the 20th century. This tour of DTH’s deep footprint spurs hopes that the company, dismantled in 2004, may soon be revitalized.

At an exhibit-related colloquium on Saturday eight DTH alumni dancers shared their personal histories dancing with the company. Read about it here.

-- Debra Levine