Erin Carpenter as a Knicks City Dancer (David Saffran, courtesy Erin Carpenter)

How This Dancer Turned Her Problem Into a Business

The groundwork for Erin Carpenter's company, Nude Barre, began when she was a teenager. At 16, she earned a spot in the residency program at The Kennedy Center in partnership with Dance Theatre of Harlem. "We were required to wear nude—as in, our actual skin tone—tights and shoes," she remembers. Carpenter brought her "sun tan" tights and a pair of pink ballet shoes with her, because that was all she could find. But she wasn't allowed in class because her dancewear didn't match her skin. "I was so embarrassed," she says. "I looked unprepared. I just didn't have the right nudes." Her teacher explained that the dancers dyed their tights and pancaked their shoes.


Every week for the rest of Carpenter's dance career, she spent hours dyeing her tights and pancaking her shoes with foundation makeup. "I was getting really tired of it," she says. "There were a lot of moments where I was either embarrassed or uncomfortable. Your undergarments are your foundation, and as a performer you want to feel confident in them." So, she decided to found Nude Barre, a company offering tights in an expanded range of nude shades.

Erin Carpenter as a Knicks City Dancer (photo by David Saffran, courtesy Erin Carpenter)

Budding Ballerina

Carpenter always knew she wanted to be a performer. She attended several schools before enrolling at performing arts school Suitland High School, in Maryland. After graduating, she attended Marymount Manhattan College in NYC, where she majored in ballet and minored in business management. "I knew I wanted to own a company one day," she says. "I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I just didn't yet know what that company was." She graduated with several offers from companies outside of NYC, but wanted to stay in the city, so she signed with an agent instead. Shortly after, she became a Knicks City Dancer for the NBA and enjoyed a successful career in commercial dance, including features in national ads for companies like American Airlines.

Carpenter, the founder of Nude Barre (photo by K. Kess, courtesy of Erin Carpenter)

A New Hue

By 2009, Carpenter had grown sick and tired of wasting her time pancaking and dyeing her dancewear, and decided she was going to try to create nude tights in shades that actually represent the skin tones of all dancers. She got pointers from a friend in the sock business about manufacturers, and produced the first samples for Nude Barre that same year. "I think I cried over those first samples," she says. "They were so bad. I wasn't sure I could do it." Each batch of samples got better, though, and by 2010 Carpenter had something she could work with.

For Nude Barre's prospective shades, Carpenter looked to the diversity in the ranks of the Knicks City Dancers. "I started by looking at what shades of foundation the dancers were wearing," she says. She also surveyed tons of women. Ultimately, she settled on 12 colors, ranging from the light Lycheetini and Peach Melody to the deeper Bohemian Princess and Mocha. Carpenter currently wears Tapioca Cream as her main shade, and Cocoa when she's tan.

A Cult Following

The first shipment of Nude Barre went out in early 2011. After talk-show host Wendy Williams became a fan, other celebrities, including Tyra Banks, Laverne Cox and the members of pop group Fifth Harmony quickly followed. These days Nude Barre tights are worn by ballet dancers (Erin Chong of BalletNext and Tracy Jones of Colorado Ballet love them, and Nude Barre is an official sponsor of The Black Iris Project), Broadway performers, dancers for Beyoncé and the Knicks City Dancers. The company has also expanded to offer fishnets, sports bras, bralettes and underwear, as well as plus sizes and children's sizes.

For Carpenter, Nude Barre is all about empowering women and young girls to love the color of their skin. "When nude is viewed as one color, and you're not that color, you wonder if your skin tone isn't attractive," she says. "We want women and girls to know they're beautiful, and that their skin color is important and represented on the market."


A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Perfect Match."

Latest Posts


Nathan Sayers

From "Dance Moms" to Complexions: Ballerina Kaeli Ware's Unconventional Path to Success

Take one look at Kaeli Ware's Instagram page and you'll be captivated. The elegant, impossibly long-limbed ballet dancer has over 110 thousand followers hooked on her every polished move. But the 19-year-old phenom isn't just a social media sensation. Having already conquered the competition scene and the world of dance reality TV, Ware recently joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet as a trainee. These days, she splits her time between NYC and Philadelphia, PA, where she continues to beef up her classical training at The Rock School for Dance Education.

She's not a traditional bunhead, and she's not a run-of-the-mill social influencer, either. Instead, Ware is creating her own hybrid career path—and it's taking her to impressive places.

Keep Reading
Jerry Metellus, courtesy Val Chmerkovisky and Jenna Johnson

The Dance Power Couples of 2020

Given the endless hours dancers spend together in classes, rehearsals, and performances, it makes sense that onstage chemistry frequently leads to romance IRL. Sometimes the resulting relationships go beyond stage magic. Serious dance power couples not only perform together, but also collaborate on choreographic projects, embark on joint national tours, and even partner up for mainstream media gigs.

Here are seven fabulous dance couples we'll be 'shipping into the years ahead.

Keep Reading
(From left) Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, and Lauren Graham in "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist," courtesy NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Mandy Moore Puts Dance in the Spotlight in NBC's Newest Series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist"

Imagine living in a real-life musical, where spontaneous song-and-dance breaks happen as often in the street as they do onstage. After a series of unusual events, every dancers' dream becomes an unexpected reality for computer coder Zoey Clarke (played by Jane Levy) in NBC's newest series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." Although at first her new powers catch Zoey off guard, when she learns to embrace them, she's able to connect with the world around her like never before.

And the best part? Every musical mashup puts incredible dancing front and center, thanks in large part to series choreographer and all around dance-for-the-screen extraordinaire, Mandy Moore. Dance Spirit chatted with Moore about choreographing for the dance-driven series, which returns to NBC with all-new episodes this Sunday, February 16 at 9/8c.

Keep Reading
contest
Enter the Cover Model Search