Cynthia King is a choreographer like no other. Not only is her dance school — aptly named Cynthia King Dance Studio — the go-to place for any kid in NYC who wants to master a jeté or a rond de jambe, but it’s impossible to visit her Brooklyn studio or have a 5-minute conversation with her without noticing the obvious: the woman cares about animals.
So much so that, almost 10 years ago, Cynthia King started a line of vegan ballet slippers. Plastered loud and clear across her website, which is frequented daily by her hundreds of students and their families, you see this:
“Gorillas, chimpanzees, and many other species face deforestation and homelessness every day due to unnecessary destruction of their habitats for livestock production. Waterways around the world continue to suffer lingering effects of pollution from factory farms and tanneries, some closed generations ago. Using cruelty free ballet slippers directly conserves natural resources and saves lives.”
At King’s studio, where it’s not unusual to find a Vegetarian Starter Kit (or several hundred) lying around, wearing cruelty-free ballet slippers is not an option. To this kind-hearted entrepreneur, compassion is the name of the game. Not surprisingly, as they learn more and more about the ABC’s of veganism, the kids are on board. Through King’s advocacy efforts, she has educated thousands about the horrors of factory farming and the compassionate alternatives. As her website explains:
“When you choose Cynthia King Ballet Slippers, you have taken a graceful step towards improving our environment and reducing cruelty to animals. You not only help save the lives of the animals used in the production of the shoes, but you also help to conserve the habitat of many others.”
I wish I could make Cynthia King the poster child for Our Hen House! She is the epitome of what it means to use your talent and skills (in her case, dance), merge them with your resources (her dance school), and create a perfect blend of activism at its finest (the vegan ballet slipper — brilliant!).
Cynthia King agreed to chat with Our Hen House about her vegan businesses, and how she incorporates animal issues into her choreography.
Our Hen House: At your dance school, you require your students to wear your ballet slippers. Do you explain to them why it’s not okay to wear leather?
Cynthia King: I usually just say it is the required shoe. I try to address animal rights in a more personal way. For instance, recently, when a child said that they were looking forward to Thanksgiving because they loved eating turkey, I responded that two of the vegetarian students in the room and I also love birds, and would never eat them. I like to talk about companion animals a lot, too. I take responsibility as someone the kids look up to, setting a good example by telling them things like “I love animals — like dogs, cats, and chickens — and I would never want harm to come to them.”
OHH: What is their response, generally?
CK: It plants a seed. Young children are curious and it’s a good time to open their eyes to animal issues. More and more people are concerned with issues of social responsibility and the consequences of their actions as consumers, so they should be open to these issues as well.
OHH: Is it true that Emily Deschanel also approached you about wearing a pair of vegan shoes in her hit show, Bones?
CK: Emily Deschanel was in a dance scene on the program and specially requested a pair of my shoes, which were immediately sent over. More recently, we got a call from Vogue Magazine urgently requesting a pair for Natalie Portman’s January cover shoot.
OHH: Well, obviously the shoes fill a real void. They’re one of a kind! What sparked the idea for the vegan ballet slippers, and was it difficult getting the business off the ground?
CK: As a ballet teacher, people consistently asked me to recommend shoes. There weren’t any vegan options in the US and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend any that animals had suffered for. I needed to come up with a solution. Starting was tough, but exciting. I didn’t know anything about textiles or manufacturing, but I did a lot of research and was motivated by my cause.
OHH: Besides your vegan ballet slippers, what other ways do you advocate for animals with your students? Do you ever incorporate animal themes into their dances?
CK: I am inspired by the ways that animals move – the way they slink, gallop, fly and swim. I have choreographed many ballets celebrating their beauty and unique abilities.
Last year I did a piece about the inhumane practice of holding wild animals in captivity and forcing them to perform tricks for circus audiences. The piece, entitled Exposé, is a dark and frightening look at what circus animals endure. There is a large cage on stage holding several dancers portraying animals, who are eventually freed by children. The animals communicate their plight to the young visitors, and the children set them free.
OHH: Here at Our Hen House, we are big fans of for-profit activism, such as yours. Do you have any advice for anyone who might be interested in starting their own vegan business?
It’s extremely important to channel a portion of your proceeds to the not-for-profits supporting your cause.
Any business venture takes patience, perseverance, and willingness to work hard. With a project that will save the lives of animals and shine light on advocacy through the arts, there is so much added incentive to press on when it gets tough. A seemingly tiny niche, like vegan ballet slippers, has opened many conversations and brought animal issues to new ears.
There is no reason for any animal to die for the sake of dance. Many of us in the arts suffer and sacrifice in order to master our craft. When people, including dancers, buy leather shoes, they are supporting an industry that victimizes animals. I wouldn’t be able to dance joyfully knowing that innocent animals had suffered and died for my shoes.