All About Ballet Shoes
Step-By-Step Guide on How to Choose the Perfect Ballet Shoe
The golden rule of choosing dance shoes, whatever the style of dance, is comfort. This is absolutely essential in order to ensure you give your best possible performance. In ballet, having a comfortable pair of ballet shoes is no less important than any other style of dance.
With such a wide variety of ballet shoes available, it can often be very confusing knowing which ones to choose especially if you are just about to start learning. There are so many styles available and if you are a novice, you need to make sure that you choose the right ones. Most dance schools have a uniform and it’s quite likely that your ballet teacher will require you to buy a particular pair of ballet shoes so it’s best to talk to them first. For those of you who want to get a head start or don’t have a uniform, here is a helpful guide to make sure you choose the best ballet shoes for you!
Step 1: Type of Ballet Shoes
Soft Ballet Shoes
There are two different types of soles available with soft ballet shoes – split sole and full sole.
- Reaches from the toe right down to the heel without a break
- Elastics are either attached or within the shoe
- Offers the extra support required by beginners especially.
- Encourages the foot to work harder in order to achieve en-pointe.
- Over time, this will develop and strengthen the muscles in the arch of the foot enough to allow the dancer to progress to split sole ballet shoes.
- Has a break in between the ball of the foot and the heel
- Elastics are either attached or within the shoe
- Provides more flexibility of the foot
- Gives a much nicer line which can help result in a more polished performance.
Once you have progressed to the split sole ballet shoe, you are just one step away from advancing to the pointe shoe. This type of shoe has a different structure to the soft ballet shoes discussed in this article. They have a ‘box’ and ‘shank’ which together support the dancer’s foot allowing them to stand on the tips of their toes and move around the performance space as though weightless. This highly rewarding skill takes many years of hard work and commitment.
- The toe box is softer and the sides or ‘wings are not as deep as in a pointe shoe
- Demi pointe shoes have no shank so are more flexible and do not have the support required for pointe work
- Demi pointe shoes are used to make the transition from soft to pointe shoes, but should not be used for ‘en-pointe’ performances.
Pointe shoes vary in size and fit to suit individuals, but all have the same internal structure:
- The box is a hard enclosed space at the end of the shoe, designed to support the toes.
- The end of the box is flattened to create a platform enabling dancers to stand ‘en-pointe.’
- The shank is a piece of rigid material which provides support for the arch of the foot whilst ‘en pointe.’
- Most pointe shoes are only made in flesh colours, so that the dancer almost appears as though they are performing barefoot
- Come with a strong hard-wearing suede type bottom so it can be bent to break the pointe shoes in.
Pointe shoes DO NOT come with pre-attached elastics or any toe protection, such as Ouch Pouches or Animal Wool. They are sold separately -you need to choose protection which makes your toes feel most comfortable or get advice from a fitter. Any other accessories such as pointe shoe elastics, suede caps (to improve the grip of the pointe platform on the toe box and stop wear of the fabric), ribbons and more are also available to purchase separately.
Step 2: Type of Fabric
The next thing to consider is the fabric from which ballet shoes are made. The vast majority and most popular ballet shoes are manufactured from leather and canvas though satin ballet shoes are also available which are very attractive. Though ballet looks very dainty and delicate, ballet classes require a lot of endurance and your ballet shoes will need to be equally hard wearing. Each ballet shoe comes with either a suede full sole or split sole bottom to help with better grip and rotation when wearing the shoe.
- The most aesthetically pleasing appearance
- Ideal for special occasions
- Lacks any give therefore is unable to stretch and mold to the shape of your foot.
- We also have these in a ‘Wide’ fitting as these can come up fairly thin measured.
- fairly durable and will outlast most pairs of satin shoes several times over
- will retain their shape
- can sometimes snag and form holes
- they are machine washable making them easy to maintain
- Some dancers also feel that they allow them to better feel the surface of the floor through the shoe than other fabrics.
- Hard wearing therefore will usually last much longer than any other of fabric.
- They require the dancer’s foot to work harder to stretch which helps develop the strength of the muscles in the feet and legs.
- More expensive than canvas or satin.
If you’re not sure which ballet shoes to choose, leather is almost always the best choice. However, if you’re not ready to spend that little bit of extra cash just yet, it’s a good idea to start off with a pair of Satin ballet shoes. If you decide that you enjoy ballet classes, then you can always buy a pair of leather ballet shoes when your canvas ones need replacing. Remember though, before you go out and buy any ballet shoes, check with your teacher to see whether there are any particular shoes they recommend.
Step 3: Try the Ballet Shoes on!
Once you have decided on your chosen fabric and type of sole, you will be getting close to finding the right pair of ballet shoes. Before you make your final choice you will need to try them on.
- Put on your ballet shoe.
- Put your leg out straight forward with the toe pointed forward and touching the floor.
- Is there ample space for a good pinch at the back of this foot?
- Is there enough room for the toes to wriggle around a little but not enough space for the foot to move around inside the shoe?
If the toes are jammed into the end of the shoe, then you need to go for a bigger size.
You need to make sure that when wearing the shoe, you have enough room at the front of the shoe for your toes. There doesn’t need to be a massive gap around all the toes, but you do need to be able to see the tip of the big toe through the ballet shoe but still have a bit of room around the other toes. This is so when a dance teacher looks at your pointe, they can identify that the tip of the toe is in the correct position within the shoe. The leather ballet shoes do give a little once worn in, that’s why you don’t want a huge gap at the end or they will end up too big.
Step 4: Consider the Elastics
Finally, you need to consider the elastics. Most ballet shoes come with elastics included but they may not be attached. This is because every dancer has slightly different shaped feet which means that the elastics need to be in a slightly different position. Some beginner shoes come with the elastics pre-attached which is great for novices. If the elastics you choose aren’t attached then it’s important to attach them to ensure that they offer your ankles better support and protection.
To do this;
Place your ballet shoe on a flat surface with the sole facing down.
Keeping the sole of the ballet shoe flat, fold down the heel of the shoe against the lining, and on the outer side of the shoe use a pencil to lightly mark where the folded upper meets the binding.
Stitch one side of the elastic onto the lining and binding but be very careful not to put the needle through the ballet shoe upper.
Put on the shoe and pull the elastic over the instep, mark where the elastic meets the binding and stitch the elastic to the other side.
Following these steps will ensure that the elastic is sewn on in the correct place and your ballet shoes are as comfortable as possible!
Dance Gear Direct are experts in providing dance wear with over 30 years’ experience. For more information about our extensive range of ballet shoes please visit our website https://www.dancegear.co.uk.
We also provide Pointe shoe fitting by appointment, in our shop. Call 0121 420 1999