Dance Theatre of Harlem: Dancing in Ingrid Silva’s Shoes

Ingrid Silva dances on stage and performs ballet. She dances in a pink tutu and dances in front of a purple backdrop.

Born in Brazil, Ingrid Silva has had to make her own path in the dance world. Silva began dancing at the age of eight and by thirteen was attending one of the top ballet schools in Brazil, the Escola de Dança Maria Olenewa and Centro de Movimento Debora Colker. When Silva was eighteen, she was discovered by Dance Theatre of Harlem and was invited to attend the organization’s summer intensive program multiple times before joining as a professional dancer in 2013. Silva came to the U.S. not knowing any English, and had to learn the language via music and movies. 

As a Black woman, Silva saw very little representation in terms of ballet dancers who looked like her. Even the shoes she would wear did not look like her. Silva had to dye her pointe shows with foundation through a process known as “pancaking” to make them match her skin tone.

On average, Silva would go through five tubes of Black Opal’s Ebony Brown liquid foundation per week to paint 12 to 15 pairs of shoes. Each pair took roughly 45 minutes to an hour to complete, assuring every crevice and ribbon was colored. At a rate of $11 per bottle, she would spend upwards of $800 a year on makeup to pancake her shoes. 

As of 2019, Silva no longer had to pancake her shoes. She was gifted a custom pair of pointe shoes from dancewear brand Capezio that matched her skin tone. In 2020, a pair of Silva’s customized shoes were inducted into the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. After spending decades of time and money pancaking her shoes, Silva says, “I can just put them on and dance. I know that many people will be like, ‘Okay, it’s just a shoe.’ But a ballet dancer loves their shoes like a basketball player loves their basketball. They’re mine. They’re a piece of me,” (New York Times).

Three Black dancers in orange leotards leap together. Their legs are all pointing in the same directions and they are in front of a red backdrop.
Alexandra Hutchinson Ingrid Silva and Daphne Lee © Rachel Neville

Silva has gone on to found multiple organizations, EmpowHer New York and Blacks in Ballet, and has appeared in campaigns celebrating diversity from brands such as Dove and Nike.

We are thrilled to have Ingrid Silva and Dance Theatre of Harlem | Sounds of Hazel: The Hazel Scott Ballet, presented by Music Worcester, perform at The Hanover Theatre on May 4, 2023 at 7:30 PM. Tickets start at $39 and are available at TheHanoverTheatre.org.