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General, How To...

Choosing Ballet Slippers

So you’ve heard the terms full sole and split sole when it comes to ballet slippers. You know they come in leather and canvas. But how do you know which type is most appropriate for your ballet slippers?

First, a fun fact: Marie Ann Cupis de Camargo of the Royal Ballet is credited with helping to create the first ballet slipper. In the 1700s, she began dancing in slippers instead of shoes with heels in order to jump and leap more gracefully. Ballet shoes have come a long way since then and now dancers have many varieties from which to choose.

Full Sole or Split Sole
As the name suggests, a full-sole shoe has a “full” sole that runs the length of a dancer’s foot from the heel to the toe.  A split-sole shoe has two smaller, rounded soles, one at the forefoot and one at the heel of the shoe. There is no sole at the arch of the foot in a split-sole shoe which allows for a snug fit and a flattering line when the foot is in a pointed position.

Many beginners wear full-sole slippers. The full sole adds more resistance to beginning ballet movements and helps to build strong technique as students are learning to work through their feet

Intermediate and advanced dancers often wear split-sole slippers because these shoes offer more flexibility and cleaner lines that show off the arch of the foot. Split-sole shoes also allow dancers to better feel the floor.

Leather or Canvas
While the upper section of full-sole ballet slippers are most often made from leather, split-sole slippers can be found in both leather and canvas. Making the choice between leather and canvas revolves around personal preference for the shoe’s look, feel, fit, and last.

Leather ballet slippers stretch and mold to the foot over time. They become softer the longer they are worn and take a little bit of time to be truly broken in. Properly fitting leather ballet slippers hug the foot nicely and, depending on the amount of use, will last a good amount of time between replacements.

Canvas ballet slippers are soft, lightweight, and flexible from the first wear. Canvas hugs the foot and combined with the split-sole design, creates flattering lines. Some dancers who choose canvas do so because they prefer the light, breathable feel of the canvas. Canvas shoes can wear more quickly than leather, but they are often lower in cost.

No matter what style of ballet slippers you choose, a proper fit is very important. Ballet slippers should have a snug fit when worn with tights, bare feet, or very lightweight socks. Do not allow for extra growing room. Shoes that are too large will not allow for proper performance of ballet movements, even for younger dancers. Shoes that are too small will cause the toes to curl and put added stress on the Achilles tendon. Be sure to try on shoes and perform a few basic movements such as a plie, releve, and tendu to make sure the fit is just right.

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About Kristen

Kristen Padden has more than 20 years experience working as a dance choreographer, educator, and performer. She received a BA in Dance from Point Park University and enjoyed a professional career in New York City following college. "The art of dance is a wonderful form of creative expression and I love sharing that with students of all ages." Kristen also enjoys writing, especially about her favorite subject ... dance!

6 Responses to “Choosing Ballet Slippers”

  1. On July 9, 2011 at 8:41 am Laurie responded with... #

    The dance studio a child attends will often indicate their preference in ballet slipper styles. The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) syllabus requires, for example, that their students wear full-sole leather slippers throughout their training–the exception being the senior grades 6,7 and 8 where they are recommended but split-soles can be worn.

  2. On July 20, 2011 at 2:19 am Miss Cynthia responded with... #

    You are assuming that parents are not shopping at the Family Dollar Store. I have MANY students who walk into class totally surprised that house slippers are not ballet shoes.Their parents in today’s times are doing well to pay for extras, such as dance lessons and balk at the idea of purchasing the correct shoe for the class. Some parents think that if it is “pink” it is a ballet shoe.

    As an instructor of over 31 years, retired from the stage professional ballet dancer, choreographer and starving artist (aka self employed) my entire life, you assume that I would LOVE to see guidelines for those parents who have NEVER seen a ballet shoe along with an explanation INCLUDING what NOT to buy for ballet class!The general public has no education at all in the performing arts, and it is worsening, I fear. … Many thanks. Kind regards,
    Miss Cynthia

    • On August 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm admin responded with... #

      Hi Miss Cynthia,

      Thanks for that viewpoint from inside the studio. We always recommend that parents discuss their choice of shoes with the dance instructor in advance, as quality footwear in addition to a proper fit are the best tools to keeping a dancer safe and injury-free in class! Thanks again!

  3. On October 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm DAKJ mom responded with... #

    Many schools in my area do not set a recommendation for ballet shoes. Some even allow kids to wear the slipper kind sold at Walmart (ok for playing ballerina but not good for real dancing). When I moved my kids to their current dance school, I asked the staff and was told that it all depended on personal opinion and after expressing my likes and dislikes, we settled for split sole canvas shoes. I grew up with the leather full sole kind so this was new to me. I have to say it was the best decision I made. My kids like the fact that they are breathable and that they can better point their feet and I like that they are not as expensive since children’s feet grow so fast and they have to be replaced so often.

  4. On December 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm Eve-lyne Thomas responded with... #

    Currently, and for 30 years, I’ve always recommend the canvas ballet shoes to my college Ballet students since they are on a tight budget, but I personnally like the look and fit on them. As for my younger studio students, they are to wear the full sole leather ballet slipper, and the higher levels are to wear the split sole leather kinds. I definetly don’t allow the other regular store bought ballet shoes, and as soon as I see the “ballerina play” slippers, they are to come off before we even begin class since they are very slippery and unsafe. The parents cannot cut corners on these shoes, they’re not for the looks but rather for the proper preparation of techniques for all of our dancers. Lastly, I always tell a parent that if their child were to do a sport such as soccer lets say, they wouldn’t just get any kind of tennis shoe just because it was cheaper.

  5. On December 19, 2012 at 12:19 am Anna responded with... #

    I know the article is more geared for the beginners. I am an adult taking ballet again. I gave it up in my youth because I had a hard time finding ballet slippers that did not hurt the balls of my foot where the fabric gathers. Going on demi points were so painful I could never fully extend upright. Even after many months. Even now I still hate my slippers. All four pairs of them. Not sure if there is a solution for me. Make sure to have the kids stand demi point to make sure there is not a lump. Their feet will not adjust to it no matter how much callous you build up.

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