Q&A With Vegan Choreographer Cynthia King

Dancer and choreographer Cynthia King talks about her vegan dance studio and line of cruelty-free ballet shoes.

Vegans love to multitask (planning the ultimate veg weekend while baking perfect chocolate-chip cookies? No problem.), but a few of us are really, truly multitalented, as evidenced by dancer, choreographer, and instructor Cynthia King. The Brooklyn-based performer founded Cynthia King Dance Studio, where children and adults come to learn everything from the five positions of ballet to popping and locking. King is also the creator of the only readily available vegan ballet shoe line in the country, with celebrities such as Natalie Portman and Emily Deschanel on her client list. VegNews caught up with King for insight into her busy, creative world.

VegNews: How were you introduced to veganism and what made you commit to the lifestyle?
Cynthia King: I became aware that the meat on my plate was the flesh of animals in 1967—I was 10. It changed my life forever. At first I became vegetarian and then vegan once I learned that there was nothing humane about any use of animal products as part of my lifestyle. A lot of it was through reading literature and a lot of it was common sense. 

VN: You recently choreographed “Dinner and Other Dances,” which benefitted Farm Sanctuary. Do you often choreograph dances that shed light on animal welfare?
CK: Like many choreographers, I am intrigued by the way animals move. I have made dances inspired by birds, snakes, giraffes, piglets, and butterflies. Lately, I have experimented with pieces that include children and adults with animal welfare themes. I choreographed a piece called “Exposé” in which dancers were crowded into a cage on stage. The piece is about the agony animals exploited for entertainment endure. It was amazing how the children expressed the theme in a raw, spontaneous way. During rehearsals I spoke with the children about the ways that animals are made to do the things they do in performances. It is important for me to be able to create and stage purely abstract pieces as well as pieces that include animal themes.

VN: Having an entirely vegan studio, what kind of reaction do you get from students and guests? 
CK: Students and their families embrace the cruelty-free environment. They also learn about the health benefits of plant-based eating, since we offer vegan literature and always serve great vegan food at our events—even at parent orientation meetings. People come here for excellent dance training, and few are vegan, most are caring and open. A parent of a dancer recently told me that her daughter loved animals and asked me for suggestions on where to get cruelty-free makeup for her child. That warmed my heart!

VN: What was the process like when creating your vegan ballet slippers? Are you hoping to expand and offer more types of vegan dance shoes?
CK: The process was challenging because I had no experience at all in this kind of project. It was completely trial and error. The vegan shoes I had been using had stopped being made (they were also from overseas and very expensive). Students were always asking me what shoes I recommended and there was no shoe I could recommend in good conscience, since none were vegan. In 2002, I started searching for a textile that would work. I approached a dance shoemaker with the materials and asked him if he would try to make a shoe for me. He said yes, and now the current shoe beautifully balances form and function, transitioning perfectly from the studio to the stage. We’re hoping to offer the shoes in more mainstream outlets, and I’m always open to filling voids in the dance-shoe market.

VN: What’s been the most exciting part of your journey as a vegan dancer, choreographer, and dance instructor?
CK: Being able to be active in two areas I am passionate about: animal rights and dance; seeing my students grow into seasoned, confident dancers and into mature, compassionate young women and men; and introducing the only prêt-à-porter vegan ballet slippers are all very exciting.

VN: What can we expect from Cynthia King Dance Studio in the future?
CK: I’m planning the expansion of my dance company and school for a bigger space and more performances. We’re making a big effort to get the ballet slippers into more mainstream retail and media outlets. Our annual spring performances take place at Kumble Theater in Brooklyn April 29 to May 1. All of the students will be wearing all-vegan shoes and costumes.

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