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  1. ITV Report

The pioneering dancer changing the face - and feet - of British ballet

  • By ITV News video producer Natalia Jorquera

Cira Robinson says she is no longer self-conscious of her colour in the dance world - but admitted standing out as a black ballet dancer had made her feel "a little uncomfortable".

Diversity in ballet has altered dramatically since she began dancing in the UK after moving from America.

"It's definitely changed in the past 10 years in this country," she told ITV News.

"But at that point in time (arriving), as far as a dark-skinned female - I was the only one."

She's now part of Ballet Black the UK's first ballet company for dancers of black and asian decent.

But despite the changing times, Cira continued to face barriers for years.

When it came to footwear, she struggled to find pointe shoes that matched her skin tone.

Cira Robinson dances with the UK's first ballet company for dancers of black and Asian decent. Credit: ITV News

"It is hard for people of my colour to find something that just fits - that matches," she said. "We were told to dye things in coffee and in tea and it just doesn't come out right.

"It's not only an extension of your leg, it's an extension of your whole body, your finger tips, your upper body to your toe," she said. "Sure there is a leotard there, but it is about that line."

Throughout her career Cira was forced to resort to "pancaking", colouring her shoes with foundation and a sponge to take the pink away.

Cira has previously used foundation to match her pointe shoes to her skin tone. Credit: ITV News

Fed up with the lack of options available, she eventually took matters into her own hands.

"I was tired of pancaking my shoes and I went into (ballet shoe makers) Freed one day and I saw blue shoes and pink shoes and purple shoes and all these colours and I assumed they dyed the shoe.

"I asked what would it take to get a brown shoe and that's when the ball started rolling and then Ballet Black got involved - it's this amazing fusion of change, for the better."

Freed of London soon became the UK's first company to create alternative options for dancers with bronze and brown pointe shoes.

Freed of London has become he UK's first company to create alternative options for dancers. Credit: ITV News

For Cira, it's just one more step in the right direction.

"Times are definitely changing," Cira told ITV News. "In a few years I think we'll see a huge change, but ultimately it starts in the schools, it starts with training more children of colour."

Cassa Pancho MBE founded Ballet Black 18 years ago. Credit: ITV News

Cassa Pancho founded Ballet Black 18 years ago to try to make ballet more inclusive.

"We have black and asian teachers in our school and so by having those role models in place it creates an environment where you know you're welcome in ballet," she told ITV News.

"Over the past 18 years we've seen an increase, certainly in our school in Shepherd's Bush. The kids are from all different backgrounds, but it has taken 18 years to start to see the change.

"And now in the UK there is one black or mixed race women in each of the ballet companies."

Cassa said it's still a way off before real change is achieved.

"We would have made a change when it's not a discussion any more," she said.

"So if there is a black woman in a lead role it won't be news, because it won't be surprising to us because it will be part of the norm of the ballet world."