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How do I Choose Ballet Shoes?

By Jessica Reed
Updated May 21, 2024
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To choose the proper ballet shoes, also known as ballet slippers, a dancer needs to consider comfort, size, material, and sole type. A beginner who does not yet dance on pointe needs soft ballet shoes, while a professional dancer or a student advanced enough to dance on pointe will want pointe shoes to support her feet. Both soft and pointe shoes are available in satin, canvas, and leather. Once the dancer has decided on the type of shoe and the material, she needs to determine whether she wants full or split sole.

Comfort and size go hand in hand when choosing ballet shoes. A dancer should try the shoes on and ensure she can move her toes in them but that the material does not hang loosely and rub against the skin. New ballerinas often assume the shoes should feel tight on their feet, but too tight shoes will not allow the dancer to spread the toes for balance. After a dancer moves from the soft beginner shoe to a pointe shoe she will want to have her shoes custom made to ensure the proper fit. Improperly sized shoes will throw off her balance and put unnecessary strain on her feet.

While ballet shoes are available in satin, canvas, and leather, it is generally recommended to avoid satin shoes except for special occasions. The material wears out quickly with daily use and does not stretch or mold to the foot. Canvas and leather each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Men often prefer canvas ballet shoes. Since a male ballet dancer typically weighs more than a female dancer, a man’s extra weight can cause leather shoes to stick to the floor while canvas shoes do not have this problem.

Dancers may consider canvas shoes because they are machine washable and allow the dancer to better feel the surface of the floor through the shoe. Other dancers prefer leather ballet shoes because the leather is warmer and usually lasts longer when dancing on a wooden floor. Dancers who choose canvas ballet shoes can prolong the shoe’s life by following proper washing instructions and choosing a pair made from a heavier canvas material.

The last option a dancer needs to decide on when choosing ballet shoes is whether she wants full sole or split sole. Typically this factor is more about personal preference and both can work well. The split sole shoes often carry a higher price tag but many dancers find the split soles make it easier to point their foot and the shoe forms to the foot well. The full sole shoes are not as flexible but they do provide more support for the feet and are often the best choice for beginners.

When a dancer buys her shoes, she should visit a trusted store or take her ballet teacher along for help. The teacher can help determine the proper fit for the dancer and order a custom made pair if the dancer desires. She may also want to buy more than one pair so she can try out different materials or different soles to see which feels and works best with her feet.

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Discussion Comments

By Rotergirl — On Feb 04, 2014

Most ballet schools have their own requirements for slippers, including whether they will be leather or canvas, split sole or full and pink, white or black. Comfort, then, for the soft slippers, is the most important factor.

Most students do *not* buy custom made pointe shoes. This is generally reserved for professional dancers. Some companies, like Gaynor Minden, offer a huge variety of stock sizes and styles so a dancer can usually pick the combination of features that best suits her individual foot. She will need to consider length, box size, vamp depth, heel height and a number of other factors. This is best done in consultation with her teacher, since fit is of prime importance in pointe shoes. Improperly fitted shoes can cause injury.

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