Paris Opéra gets tangled up in tights

Paris Opéra gets tangled up in tights


norman lebrecht

October 08, 2020

A quarter of the staff at Paris Opéra, some 400 names, have signed a petition calling for new anti-racism measures.

Among other things, they want tights for dancers and singers to match their skin colour.

Alexander Neef, the incoming director, thanked the protesters for their ‘very thoughtful’ observations, promising an internal inquiry.

More here.



  • V. Lind says:

    Oh, FCS. Now costumes are racist? I can see some aesthetically tortured Swan Lakes and Giselles coming up.

    • sam says:

      You actually raise a very intriguing point in Swan Lake :

      Clearly the visual bad guy is the Black Swan and the visual good guys are the white swans, so what happens visually if you start putting black swans among the white swans? or if a black ballerina is dancing Odette/Odile, and she appears both times in dark brown tights?

      I’m not saying so no black ballerinas for Swan Lake, I’m just saying visually in terms of costumes, the rule about tights matching skin color can’t work

      • Bruce says:

        Odette/Odile could change between a black or white dress and still wear the same tights, for instance. (Do white dancers wear black tights to play the black swan? Are tights even part of the costume for this character normally? I’ve only seen it once, many years ago, and honestly don’t remember.)

        I suppose if the point of the costume is to pretend that the tights are the dancers’ real legs, then the color of the tights should match their real skin, otherwise we are being asked to pretend that a black dancer has black arms and white legs. If the tights are part of the costume (e.g. a harlequin-type character in red & green with diamond patterns, or the color-coded princes in Sleeping Beauty) then there’s no need.

        Not agitating for one side of the argument or the other, just trying to see if I can find a way that their demand makes sense, instead of assuming that it’s silly.

      • Marfisa says:

        I have just struggled through the Wikipedia article on Swan Lake (what a ridiculous art form ballet is), and as far as I could make out this whole black/white symbolism thing originated in the 1960s. Couldn’t that now be ditched altogether? Black swans exist, and I imagine they are no more evil than white ones.
        It should go without saying that tights for dancers should match their skin colour, if the idea of tights is to make legs appear bare. What is all the fuss about?

        • John Borstlap says:

          The point of tights in ballet is to make bare skin invisible, to turn the legs from invitations to naughty thoughts into abstract instruments of art.

          And there is no more beautiful bird than a black swan.

          • Marfisa says:

            Thanks, that is much more plausible – and in that case the colour of the tights has nothing to do with the dancers’ skin colour and everything to do with the production design. Same conclusion.

            Black swans and white swans are both beautiful (in the water), but I wouldn’t like to go too near one!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        First world problem!!

      • Epiphany says:

        Did you realize that all stages are black?

        Can’t anyone concoct some sort of black dominance out of big, black stages??

        Think Liberals, THINK!!!

        Perhaps white people should have been offended by this overt Liberal racism for centuries as well, eh?? Democrats have long fancied themselves as intellectual artsy types and this is their doing.


    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Sadly for the Left, and despairingly for the rest of us, they are trapped on an ideological hamster wheel and moving at exponentially faster speed.

    • The Left DEVOURING its own.. says:

      This is TERRIFIC!

      How long will it take Leftists to destroy the rest of the arts?

      They’re doing a great job at acting offended by every inane topic imaginable and burning things down they can’t afford to patronize.

      Can’t wait for them to torch more of those “white privilege” performance halls and places of worship that financially support them!!

      Makes for great mainstream news, doesn’t it?

  • James Weiss says:

    Oh, FFS. Enough already. The virtue signaling has reached epic proportions. The Arts are having a hard enough time trying to survive and this is the focus?

  • Darrell says:

    Four years from now, when Donald Trump has triumphantly finished his presidency in the United States, he should proceed to clean up Europe of so much nonsense.

    From America to Europe: From MAGA! to MEGA!

    • Bill says:

      You think his sentence will be that short?

    • William Safford says:

      So, what you’re saying is that the orange enemy of the people is so infectious that he should go viral in Europe.

      My guess is that he’ll go into exile after January 20, 2021 to escape justice, but it probably won’t be to western Europe. After all, we have extradition treaties with them….

      • Darrell says:

        Trump is the same guy who in Poland said triumphantly that of:

        “We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.”


        Tommasini, leading the flock of the political correctness madness, will pontificate that african percussion and Beethoven’s Third are on the same level, because now it is time to hate everything Western (especially if it comes from heterosexual white men.)

        I guess Donald Trump would welcome Classical Choirs in the churches, not bagpipes and ukeleles, which is not a small thing to begin with.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    So it’s ok for black ballerinas to wear pink tights and pink slippers, like white dancers is it? Welcome to the 21st century racists.

    • Adrienne says:

      My daughter has tights in various shades, including green and purple. I must inform her that, in future, such garments are reserved for people with green and purple legs respectively.

      Another racist faux pas averted.

  • drummerman says:

    Back in the ’60s there was a wonderful African-American comedian named Godfrey Cambridge, who did a lot of very clever political satire-type humor. One of his lines was: “I knew we had a race problem in America when I went to a drugstore and tried to buy flesh-colored band aids.”

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I guess I never focused on the notion that tights were supposed to represent skin and thus skin color. I thought they were just colorful costumes. I must have gotten that idea from a Mel Brooks movie.

    But if they are supposed to represent skin color, then aren’t tights really a form of body shaming – “your real skin isn’t pretty enough to be shown”? Don’t change the color — ban the tights.

    • Bruce says:

      I think it may have been a modesty issue. Ballet dancers until recently (mid-20thC) were assumed to be sluts because they showed their legs in public.

  • Frankster says:

    Lot of old people talking here. A younger generation can see the obvious lack of racial equality in the classical arts and are tired of nothing being done.

    • Allen says:

      Lots of people from SE Asia in the classical arts. Are they not dark enough for you?

      Are you a racist?

    • James Weiss says:

      “Racial equality in the classical arts.”

      A fact no one wants to mention: there is more diversity on stage than in the audience.

      • William Safford says:

        Very often yes, sometimes no.

        For example, when I have attended classical concerts with prominent Black performers, Black composers, etc., the audience is often substantially more Black than otherwise.

        Outreach–it can work.

    • Jason Jay says:

      Since you have chosen to generalize on the basis of total generations (“old people” vs. “younger generation”) here’s a question: doesn’t the “younger generation” need to actually attend classical arts performances before they in total can ‘see’ anything at all about the specific situation? According to most arts organizations, the younger generation as a group is not doing so in any significant numbers.

    • Dave says:

      Yes unfortunately classical music audiences tend to be older generations. Hopefully we can slowly change this so the values of artists and audience will align better.

    • Ignacio Cortez says:

      True racial equality will occur when races other than white begin to ‘financially support’ the arts instead of expecting limitless handouts from white donors.

      In layman’s terms, #BLM needs to change to #BLF as in FINANCE!

      If you people can raise enough money for an organized network of destructive riots to engage in hate as opposed to supporting your own communities in a healthy, meaningful way then you need to think about how you’re all waisting everybody’s time and money including your own.

  • You're missing the point says:

    The complaints are just questioning the standard, which in this case is that shoes and tights are meant to be skin-toned, but instead the tone is for white and light skinned people. It might seem like a small detail, but the normalization of whiteness, making it the standard for what everyone wears, is a little daily reminder to BIPOC when they put on tights they’re being othered by an industry that’s historically not meant for them. As if it weren’t hard enough already to be make it as a black dancer, and then put up with this.

    What’s the harm in changing this, really people? Why be so stubborn about changing the norms – at what cost do these changes come to you?

    • V. Lind says:

      This article has black dancers whingeing about putting makeup or paint on their shoes to get the match they want. I have sat in many dressing rooms around the world interviewing principal dancers (white) as they did exactly the same — apply make-up to their pointe shoes in order to get them as close in shade to the tights as possible.

      The whole thing is about the line. (And that requires tights, which give a much neater line than even the slimmest bare leg).

      If it’s a big issue to the handful of affected dancers, so be it.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I read the heading very differently from what the subject appeared to be.

    I immediately checked my own tights which I had not worn for years. To my dismay they represented no skin colour at all. To be racially safe, I will give them as a present to my PA who has a family member who’s colour blind.

  • The orchestra will work and do the Alpin Symphony for a concert next week with Jordan

    • Clarrieu says:

      Yes, but won’t this choice of work raise another problem? It seems that the snow in the Alps is usually all-white…

  • En-tighten everyone in Simpsons yellow.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    It makes sense where tights are intended to match skin tone; in cases where the color is part of a dramatic costume (e.g., black and white swans in Lake), or the colors have nothing to do with skin tones of any sort, it is, or should be, irrelevant. Either that, or reserve blue tights for Smurfs only!

  • Ballet dancer says:

    The reasons that dancers wish to wear tights and shoes that match their skin colour have as much to do with aesthetics as identity. Long ago, ballet tights and shoes were made pink because it was believed that pink helped to elongate the line visually from the body all the way to the foot. Over time, pink became the default colour for ballet, and dancers of colour wore the same thing. Clearly pink does not work for them–pink tights and shoes do not help them create a smooth line however much they try. This changes if a dancer with brown skin wears brown tights and brown shoes. The image becomes more harmonious (ballet is about creating images), and the dancer’s line is not truncated.

    Companies such as Freed and Bloch have worked with dancers over the years to develop shoes and other products which allow dancers to feel and look truly themselves when they dance, and dancers such as Precious Adams, Misty Copeland and Eric Underwood among many others have spoken about this matter. This is not about political correctness; it’s about respecting and empowering dancers of colour, giving them a choice, and not expecting them to fit whatever norm a venerable house or company may have.

    I have been in and seen many performances of ballet such as Swan Lake and La bayadere, and can honestly say that what colour dancers choose to wear on the legs and feet is never the problem.

  • Escamillo says:

    It makes as much sense as banning women from singing young men’s parts (Octavian, most baroque operas), non-Japanese from the cast of Butterfly, non-Moors as Otello, slim men as Falstaff, non-physically handicapped baritones as Rigoletto, non Catholics as the Grand Inquisitor. And as for pseudo fairies – ‘show me your wings!’ The whole business is absurd.

  • Jack says:

    Good for them. It’s about time.

  • RobK says:

    Somehow reassuring to know that woke idiocy exists across the Channel as well.

  • C Bayley says:

    As MLK might have said:

    “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the content of their character, but by the color of their tights.”