Brands pledge to introduce darker shades of clothing after dancers petitioned for more skin-inclusive dancewear

Briana Bell is one of the many black dancers who struggles with finding dance clothes and shoes that match her skin color. (Courtesy Karen Bell)

(CNN) -- Dancewear companies around the world are pledging to introduce different shades of skin-colored clothing after dancers demanded greater inclusiveness.

Members of the dance community started a petition on urging dancewear companies to offer a wider range of clothing and shoe options for dancers of color. The petition, which called out dancewear brand Capezio, garnered nearly 320,000 signatures.

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Less than a week after the petition was started, Capezio CEO Michael Terlizzi issued a statement thanking the "hundreds of thousands of people worldwide" who signed it. Capezio is a self-described "leading dance specialty retailer."

"We have heard the message of our local dance community who want pointe shoes that reflect the color of their skin, and now will offer our two most popular pointe shoe styles as an in stock item available worldwide, Fall of 2020 in darker shades," Terlizzi said.

Australian dancewear company Bloch also promised to include a wider range of darker shades in its upcoming season.

"Thank you for engaging in conversation with us. We have been intently listening, reflecting on what we are doing and what we can do better and acknowledge we have not been moving fast enough," Bloch said in a statement.

"We are fully committed to following through with these plans and confirm we will be introducing darker shades into our Pointe shoes and Blochsox range in Fall this year, with further product announcements to follow. We will also be addressing our colour names and making changes as soon as possible."

Demanding diversity in dance

In various forms of dance, including ballet, dancers work to achieve perfect uniformity that depends on their skin-colored tights and pointe shoes to give the illusion that their legs -- including ankle and foot -- are all one part.

Bell uses foundation to paint her shoes to match her skin color. (Courtesy Karen Bell)

Black dancers who can't find shoes darker than the traditional "European pink" color go to great lengths to make their footwear match their skin tones.

Briana Bell, an 18-year-old dance major at Alabama State University, knows firsthand the difficulties that come with being a black dancer in a world that doesn't often see people of color.

Bell spends hours using tube after tube of foundation to paint her shoes to match her skin tone.

"This issue is so important because as black women, we are already discriminated against enough in our normal day-to-day lives, and we shouldn't have to face these issues in dance as well -- especially when the tools to fix the issue are readily available and have been for decades," Bell told CNN.

"Everyone is just too accustomed to ignoring us and excluding us, and we've become so used to taking it that the issue had just been sat on for too long without any action. Everything we go through to be seen as equal is entirely ridiculous."

Bell, who has been dancing since she was 3, posted on Twitter urging people to sign the petition. It garnered more than 350,000 likes and 160,000 retweets.

While offering darker color shades in shoes, tights and leotards is a first step, there are other issues Bell would like to see the dance world address. For example, while ballet and modern dance are a requirement for students studying dance, African dances aren't one of them.

Another issue is natural hair. Bell said many black dancers are "forced to straighten their hair and go to extreme lengths to assimilate to the standards set by white dance directors."

"Seeing that Capezio and Bloch have decided to comply with our wishes has made me extremely happy," she added. "Knowing that I've helped in any way to make it easier for black dancers all around the world and made it so that little black girls won't have to pancake their pointe shoes in the future brings joy to my heart."

Bell said the fight for representation and equality is not over, and she plans to continue advocating for dancers of color.

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