Ballet Shoes: A Buying Guide

Ballet Shoes: A Buying Guide

Worried about which ballet shoes to buy? Overwhelmed by the choice?

The writers at Dancewear Central have compiled a buying guide that covers the basics of fabric, fit, and full sole VS. split sole ballet shoes.

What are Ballet Shoes made of?

Ballet shoes are light, round toed shoes that are most commonly made from Satin, Canvas, or Leather.  These shoes have no heel and a flexible sole that is used for ballet dancing. They are often available in pink, white, ivory and black.

While both male and female dancers wear ballet shoes, only female dancers wear pointe shoes, but this is normally from age 11 or 12 upwards, and after many years of ballet training. Pointe shoes also have a box and a shank which a ballet shoe does not.

What are the different parts of ballet shoes called?

  • Drawstring: on a flat ballet shoe this allows the shoe to be tightened
  • Elastics: these are pieces of elastic sewn onto each shoe to ensure the most secure fit. We have a fantastic tutorial of how to sew ballet shoe elastics here
  • Ribbon: usually attached to pointe shoes, but also flat ballet shoes for exams, ribbons are tied around the ankle to secure the shoe. Learn how to tie ballet shoe ribbons here
  • Sole: the bottom of the ballet shoe often made from suede. Beginners usually wear a full sole, and then advance to a split sole
  • Box: a hard box which covers the toes in a pointe shoe. The box is made of compacted fabrics (usually cardboard and paper) hardened by glue
  • Platform: the flat part which allows you to dance en pointe
  • Vamp: encases the Box and Platform on a pointe shoe
  • Insole/Shank: the material that serves as a stiff sole
  • Throat: the part at which the shoe opens

A Brief History of Ballet Shoes

The word ‘Ballet’ was established in the 17th century and comes from the Italian ‘Ballere’ meaning ‘to dance.’ Although it originated in Italy, ballet was soon recognised in the French royal courts in 1559 when Italian Catherine De Medici married the French King Henry II.  And it was later popularised by King Louis XIV who was the King of France from 1643 to 1715.

Women began ballet dancing in 1682, when ballet shoes still had heels. Years later, in the mid-18th century, the popular Paris Opera ballet dancer Marie-Annie Camargo paved the way for dancers everywhere by taking the heels off her dance shoes. Camargo was an innovator in other ways, rejecting the restrictive costumes dancers of the time wore.

Marie Taglioni (23 April 1804 – 22 April 1884) was a Swedish ballet dancer of the Romantic ballet era, a central figure in the history of European dance. She was very famous for performing La Sylphide, which was the first performance without wires and was the start of people dancing ‘on their toes’. It was considered a huge step forward in ballet and is what made ballet more like it is today.

The much loved 20th century Russian born Anna Pavlova (famous for The Dying Swan) popularised ballet dancing across the globe. Pavlova had extremely arched steps and slender feet which meant the traditional Ballet slippers put added pressure on her toes and ankles. To solve her problems, this innovator created the modern-day pointe shoe, complete with supportive shank and box.

You can check out our handy History of Ballet infographic here.

Which fabric is best for ballet shoes?

Fabric Advantages Disadvantages
Leather Improves young and inexperienced dancers’ foot strength

Extremely durable

The most expensive fabric choice
Canvas Easier to clean than leather, as Canvas shoes can be put in the wash

Less expensive than leather

Don’t take as long to be broken in

Less durable than leather
Satin Match satin ballet shoe ribbons and are often the preferred choice for children’s exams and competitions

Aesthetically pleasing: flatters the line of the foot

Wear out quickly
  • Canvas is typically used for split sole ballet shoes as this fabric moulds to the dancer’s foot and helps to accomplish the split sole’s purpose of emphasising arches.
  • Satin is most commonly used for performances.
  • Leather is typically used for full sole ballet shoes, which are used for young dancers.

Which Ballet shoes are best for beginners?

Ballet slippers are the only shoes that should be worn by beginners. There is some debate over which type the beginner should choose for their ballet shoe: some dance teachers believe that a full sole is the most appropriate option.

Once students reach the higher vocational ballet exams, that soft blocks become a compulsory shoe for the exam with many exam boards. Pointe shoes and soft pointe shoes should be professionally fitted in person.

Demi-pointe shoes have a full leather outer sole, meaning they have more resistance than a normal shoe. However, some dance teachers argue that demi-pointe shoes can hide technical faults such as young dancers clawing their toes. The purpose of demi-pointe shoes is to force the dancer to work harder and therefore strengthen the muscles of their foot, preparing them for pointe shoes. Many dance teachers will also give students additional exercises during the lesson to improve foot and ankle strength (such as with an exercise band). Foot strengthening exercises may also be given to be practised at home, too.

Always consult your dance teacher about their preferred shoe type, as well as their preferred colour.

Split Sole VS. Full Sole

Sole Type Advantages Disadvantages
Split Sole Flatters the line of the foot

Allows greater flexibility and technique.

More aesthetic during performances

Less arch support
Full Sole More resistant than a Split Sole shoe, therefore builds foot muscles Can hide bad technique such as clawed toes

How to measure feet for Ballet shoes?

Follow the link for our handy shoe size guide. Dancewear Central always recommends ordering one size larger than your street wear shoe size. Below is a guide on how to measure your feet;

  1. Stick a piece of paper on the ground using sticky tape
  2. Step on the paper and ask a friend to trace around your foot
  3. Use a ruler to measure the length/width of your foot
  4. Apply these figures to a foot wear size guide

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