How To Choose Ballet Shoes (Flats)

I remember when I had my mother sign me up for my first ballet classes in 1980s East Berlin; we needed to get my ballet slippers from the one shop that sold them. The shoes were made from thick black leather and I had to "break them in" at home by walking around in them wearing wet socks.

A few years later, when one girl from our class brought back a pair from Russia that was made from white canvas we were all in awe.

Things progressed and in ballet school young students and boys got supplied with canvas ballet slippers and girls from grade 4 to 8 girls "recycled" their worn out pointe shoes as ballet slippers by taking out the shank and inner sole. This process was aptly called "butchering" (ausschlachten), an extremely messy and exhausting undertaking. After pulling out the glued linen and nails, the shoes had to be sewn up again and holes from wear and tear repaired by stitching tape over them.

canvas and mesh flats with split-sole

Today we are spoiled for choice and the difficulty is to find the right shoe from the many options available. Although it is ok to wear socks when starting your ballet classes, most people prefer to wear proper ballet shoes very soon. A few students struggle to balance at first because of the narrow sole of the ballet shoe. So try to find a brand that makes the soles as flat as possible. Be also aware that some brands tie up the canvas under the knuckles of your toes, which can create a lot of pressure and no amount of treating this "knob" with a hammer makes it much better.

 

Material

 

You can choose between canvas, leather, and recently also mesh. Because of my childhood memory, I personally would prefer canvas or mesh but of course nowadays leather is beautifully soft and not comparable with the old East-German version. What you want to look out for is that the shoe fits your foot snugly, not too loose, and not too tight but rather like a sock. People with long big toes often struggle to find the right shape of the shoe. Don't compromise on length, if your big toe pushes against the shoe it can become extremely painful and your toe can get bruised. Be aware that the shoes, especially leather ones stretch when worn. However, I found I had to buy shoes made from mesh 2 sizes above my normal size. It is hard to tell as opinions differ of what lasts longer, canvas or leather. In the end, it's your personal preference and the price of the shoe.

 

If you care about ethical shoes, Grishko offers custom ballet slippers in canvas and without a leather sole. When you order, tell them you want your shoes veganised. Cynthia King Dance Studios in New York also sells vegan ballet slippers. 

 

Colour

 

The foot is supposed to continue the line of the leg, especially for the female dancer. Therefore I would recommend skin coloured shoes if you wear ballet tights or train with bare legs and white shoes if you wear white socks (mostly men). Black shoes may give a more masculine look for the gentlemen.

 

The Sole

 

You have the choice between full sole and split sole. I cannot think of any argument in favour of a full sole. Some people say it helps to strengthen the foot but I find it more important to be able to see how well the foot works. A split-sole shoe "hugs" the instep of the foot and lets you see the shape of the foot whilst a full sole-shoe often creates a gap between the instep and the shoe and it is difficult to know whether the foot is pointed correctly or not. Especially if you are not "blessed" with a beautifully arched foot, you would want to use everything possible to enhance your line (long arched shape of your foot).

 

Elastics

 

How to sew the elastic is best researched on YouTube. But to start: if the elastics are not yet attached fold in the heel of your shoe towards the toe part. Attach one elastic band on each side at the fold crease. Put on your shoe and cross the two elastics over the arch of your foot (to measure their lengths) and attach the ends on the opposite sides. This is somewhere between the anklebone and the height of your arch. The elastic should secure the shoe on your foot but not be so tight that it hurts. I prefer the 2 crossed over elastics to single horizontally attached one because it elongates the line of your leg and foot much nicer.

 

Brands

 

Popular ballet flats brands are: Bloch | Capezio | Grishko | Sansha | So Danca