After Misty Copeland took her last leap in “Swan Lake” with the Washington Ballet in April 2015, she untied her pink satin pointe shoes and signed them across the top, as many ballerinas do. Signed pointe shoes often become gift-shop items or special giveaways for ballet fans.
But Copeland’s worn-out shoes are different. The principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre has achieved rare celebrity status, selling out her performances and eliciting grand-slam-style cheers as she steps onstage. So even her beat-up, unusable shoes are a hot item. In a recently opened eBay auction, bidding starts at $900 for a pair of her pointe shoes from one of her Washington Ballet performances. A signed poster of Copeland and her “Swan Lake” partner, Brooklyn Mack, is included in the package, proceeds from which will go to the Washington Ballet. (The auction closes at 7 p.m. Feb. 20.)
According to a Washington Ballet spokeswoman, Copeland signed the shoes as she exited the stage from one of the two performances she gave while a guest artist with the company at the Kennedy Center, just two months before she was promoted to principal status at ABT. Those were her first appearances in this country in “Swan Lake’s” leading role of Odette/Odile.
During her highly publicized quest to become ABT’s first African American principal ballerina, Copeland attracted the spotlight through her memoir and various televised ad campaigns. Her appearance with the Washington Ballet was a coup for company. But it was not only because of Copeland’s star power. Mack, her partner in those “Swan Lakes,” also is African American, and together the pair represented a step forward in diversifying the art form.
The $900 starting price puts them well above other signed Copeland shoes on eBay, which are priced between $99 and $275. That seems about average for the used footwear of leading ballerinas. A pair signed by the now-retired New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan, for instance, can be had for $250. Of course, the shoes of lesser-known dancers can be had for far less — the Kennedy Center’s gift shop sells shoes worn by members of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet for $12 per shoe.
Used and undoubtedly smelly slippers may seem a little unsavory as a souvenir, but they have long been coveted by ballet fans. Legend has it that in 1842, Russian groupies of the Italian ballerina Marie Taglioni, who was beloved for her delicate toe dancing, bought a pair of her specially darned ballet slippers, then cooked them in a stew and ate them. Around that time, the enormously popular Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler danced in Washington, and at a banquet in her honor at the Capitol, legislators toasted her with champagne — served in her shoes. So who knows? This pair of Copeland shoes could go on to have an interesting second act.