Right now, "inclusive" seems to be the word on every dancewear manufacturer's lips. Aurora Tights, by contrast, has been talking about—and, more importantly, doing something about—inclusivity for several years now. Aurora was founded by two competitive figure skaters and a former competition kid (all women of color) when the trio were in a sorority together at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The company goes above and beyond by offering a wide—and we're talking Fenty Beauty wide—range of fabric shades to choose from. But it's not just about tights, illusion netting, and workout gear, as dancer and Aurora Tights co-founder Sydney Parker will tell you: "We want apparel that complements each dancer's skin tone to become the new normal."
The Royalette Dance Team from Bishop O'Connell High School, Parker's alma mater, performing in Aurora tights (Courtesy Chrissy Salvador)
Just like any other dancer, young Sydney Parker spent a lot of time looking critically at herself in the mirror. Eventually, it wasn't just alignment issues that stuck out to her. "I started to notice how often the makeup and clothes—especially the tights—that were picked for competitions didn't suit my skin," she recalls. Told by coaches and teachers that uniformity was more important than anything else, she tried to shrug off her discomfort and self-consciousness.
That is, until she was a college student, sharing her experiences with eventual fellow co-founders Jasmine Snead and Imani Rickerby. Having all felt excluded in strikingly similar ways because of their deeper skin color, the three women decided then and there that, in Parker's words, "this has got to stop." They began by dyeing premanufactured tights themselves and gathering focus groups to find out how to best meet dancers' needs. In January 2018, Aurora Tights was officially born, and their reach has only expanded ever since.
Made in the Shade
What makes Aurora's tights stand out (in a good way) is the sheer amount of work that went into perfecting the five shades: Diamond, Candice, Amber, True, and Lily. "While a lot of brands might offer variety, most have a greenish or gray undertone," says Parker. In order to create a truly flattering product for every dancer from children to adults, Parker and her co-founders tried out literally thousands of samples on their friends, family, and fellow artist-athletes. They eventually developed an innovative waistband that doesn't cut off a dancer's curves, and a shimmering finish that enhances the natural beauty of the dancer's complexion.
Each of the five shades is named after a different woman who's inspired the founders over the years. Candess Correll, the namesake of the "Candice" shade, was the trio's classmate at U of M and is now a veteran member and captain of the Washington Football Team's cheer squad. It's safe to say that as much as Candess inspired Aurora Tights, the tights now inspire her in return: "I love all their athleticwear too, but I'm especially passionate about the tights, because I felt a difference in my confidence when I started wearing them. When I put them on, I feel that I really do fit in this industry as a dancer."
Tights Can Change the Game
Increased confidence is just the beginning. Aurora Tights is already making the dance world a better place, especially for dancers of color. "We're on a mission to increase access pipelines and raise retention rates for Black and Brown dancers," Parker says. With that in mind, the company sponsored and hosted the inaugural Perform in Color Showcase last month. The virtual event raised $13,000 in scholarships for artist-athletes of color, while also providing a high-profile performance opportunity for young dancers of color.
More than anything, Parker's hope is that feeling beautiful and strong will make it easier for dancers of color to stick with their passion, despite the systemic racism and implicit bias that force far too many young artists offstage. "I think sometimes in the competition world, we're more likely to think about everybody as the same, and to want everybody to be the same," Parker says. "I hope that Aurora Tights is part of dance starting to embrace the diversity that ultimately makes for stronger teams."