One mistake that so many people make when they buy ballet shoes is they get them too small. Do be careful because some
stores, or fitters at the stores, will have reputations of sending dancers home with shoes that are clearly too small.
They use the excuse that "leather stretches." The truth is that while leather does stretch, it doesn't stretch
that much [probably less than a quarter of a full shoe size - ed]. I've had many experiences where the fitter has put me in
a shoe so tight that my toes curled. You need room in the shoe to let the toes spread out on the floor -- without this room
balancing on demi-pointe and working the foot correctly is more difficult. When you are in the store try a few ballet steps
to make sure the shoe will work. Do a frappé or a tendu and then try balancing on relevé.
Try to be fitted for shoes at the same time of day that you dance so that your feet will be closer to the same size. If
your feet are still growing don't get shoes that are overly large either, expecting to grow in to them. The extra material
and bad fit will be distracting or even dangerous.
Canvas or Leather?
Leather is usually thought of as more durable and attractive than canvas. It is warmer than canvas in cold studios. Depending
on the types of floors you dance on, the condition of your feet, and your weight, they can out last canvas shoes by quite
a bit. Some dancers believe a leather shoe makes the pointed foot look better than does canvas but this is often more of a
function of the type of sole on the shoe.
However leather doesn't necessarily make a better ballet shoe. Since every piece of leather has a slightly different grain
and will be finished a little differently, two identical pairs of shoes can have a significantly different feel when brushed
against the flooring.
Your weight plays an important role in determing how much friction you experience between your shoe and the floor. This
helps explain why guys tend to prefer canvas shoes. Guys are typically heavier than girls making it more likely that the leather
will stick rather than slide on the flooring. When leather shoes stick, the finish can be rubbed off quickly and the shoes
wear out even faster than thin canvas shoes. This sticking action can leave marks on the floors, make splits and lunges difficult,
and causes more stubbed toes.
You need to take care of leather shoes from the inside-out too. Be sure your feet and toe nails are smooth or don't go
barefoot inside the shoe because rough spots can tear the cloth lining inside the shoe. When this liner tears the shoe will
wear out more quickly because of the uneven stress put on the leather behind the tear.
Let's look at canvas shoes more closely. Canvas are often less expensive. On vinyl flooring they can hold up well, for
3 months or more of daily classes, but rough wood floors can eat holes in canvas in a few days. If canvas gets dirty you can
throw it into the washing machine. Canvas dries faster between classes, and dry shoes are much better for your feet. You can
dye canvas shoes easily. If you want your canvas shoes to last, look for shoes that use the heaviest canvas. This can vary
between manufacturers and even between production runs of the same model of shoe. Recently Bloch seems to be using a more
durable cloth than the Capezio models.
Sansha carries a variety of styles and colors of ballet shoes in canvas. The shoes even come with the elastic pre-attached
on one side so all you have to do is decide how tight you want to make it and half your sewing is already done. Another thing
to note on Sansha's canvas ballet shoes is that the cloth is gathered underneath the sole in places that might be annoying
to you -- try them out and expect the raised areas to compress a little with wearing.
Canvas tends to be more popular with guys, but you can get canvas ballet shoes in pink and just about every color. So,
the next time you go to a store, don't let them just throw you into leather. Ask to try on the same thing in canvas.
A few other types of shoes are also available. One is leather with a canvas instep. This kind of shoe functions much like
the normal leather ballet shoe. Capezio also has a new ballet shoe, the Capezio Stretch Insert Ballet Slipper, that has no
drawstring. Instead, the part of the shoe where the drawstring used to be is elastic. The instep is made of a stretchy material
that is very comfortable when pointing the foot. It prevents material from bunching up under the arch of the foot. No elastic
is needed to hold the shoes on your feet because of the elastic around the top of the shoe.
Split sole or Full sole?
This is an interesting option available on many brands and models of shoes. My preference as a pointe student is the full
sole. It's most like the shank of a pointe shoe. The split sole is nice because it allows the dancer to point easier and it
tends to hug the arch better. I do prefer the split sole in jazz shoes. The truth is it really doesn't make a difference.
Usually, the full sole shoes are cheaper. Sansha and Freed both have made a harder sole ballet shoe to resemble a pointe shoe
Another form of ballet shoe used by RAD students, and other students, is using de-shanked pointe shoes for ballet shoes.
The dancers will remove the shank out of their old pointe shoes by just pulling it out of the inside of the shoe, a task accomplished
easier in some shoes than others. First, remove the cloth insole. Then use a pair of pliers to remove the nails. The shank
should come right out. There are, however, some kinds of pointe shoes, such as Schachtners, in which the shank won't come
These de-shanked pointe shoes are the closest thing to wearing a pointe shoe. They help prepare pre-pointe students by
teaching them how to sew on ribbons and elastic and to work in a boxed shoe. The dancer should not go on pointe in a shoe
like this since there is no shank to support the foot. Capezio, as well as many other shoes companies, makes a shoe called
the demi-pointe which is a boxed pointe shoe with no shank. Some people argue against the use of these shoes because they
lack the freedom and stablity of a ballet shoe. In some ballet schools, such as the Royal Ballet School in London and the
Paris Opera Ballet School, ballet shoes are used for the first years of training, and de-shanked pointe shoes are used for
more advanced students or in technique class.
Elastic on the ballet shoes should be sewn on the same way as on pointe shoes. While some people will just sew the elastic
straight across the top of the foot, this does little to hold the shoe on properly. One way to sew on the elastics is to first
fold down the heel of the shoe and flatten it out. Trace the seam the fold makes from the inside of the shoe. It should be
a semi-circle. Use this as a guide to sewing on your elastic. In some cases, companies will teach their pre pointe students
to sew ribbons onto their ballet shoes as well. This gets them used to sewing the ribbons, working in a shoe with ribbons
on, and tying them on as well. Practicing your sewing on a pair of ballet shoes is much better than making mistakes on a new
pair of pointe shoes.
Another way to sew on your elastics that is popular with male dancers is to cross the elastics. You simply need two pieces
of elastic, and just sew them across the top of the shoe in an "X" shape. This is a good idea if you have tapered
feet. This technique can also be used on pointe shoes, especially with shoes that do not have a drawstring, such as Grishko's.
Like I mentioned before, Sansha ballet shoes come with one side of the elastic already sewn. The elastic is placed so that
you can cross the elastics. It's also better when trying the shoe on because you can tie the elastic on to get an idea of
how the shoe is going to fit once sewn.