Ballet Shoes - what to look for and where they originate

Modern day ballet shoes, sometimes called ballet slippers, are lightweight and designed specifically for ballet dancing. They are designed to provide much needed support for the ballet dancer’s feet, and fit closely to the foot for safety and to allow for optimum flexibility.

The origins of the modern ballet shoe can be traced back to the Mid 18th Century when Marie Camargo of the Paris Opéra Ballet was the first ever dancer to perform in a non-heeled shoe. This enabled her to execute leaps that were practically impossible with the standard heeled women’s ballet shoe of the time. After the French Revolution, heels were completely eliminated from ballet shoes and replaced by new flat soled shoes. These were secured to the feet by ribbons and included pleats under the toes which enabled dancers to leap, execute turns and fully extend their feet like never before.

The shoes are available in many different colours such as black, white, red and flesh coloured. The most common colour to be worn on stage tends to be flesh coloured as they make it appear that the ballet dancer is dancing barefoot. Many dancers, however, like to customise their appearance with brighter coloured shoes for workshops, dance classes or rehearsals.

The ballet shoe is manufactured in leather, satin or canvas. Though they traditionally have a leather sole, most modern ballet shoes tend to have suede soles. In either case, the sole does not reach all the way to the edge of the shoe. The shoe will have either a split sole or a full sole. As the name suggests, a full sole will cover the length of the shoe from the ball of the foot to the heel, whereas a split sole has a break in the middle to allow for increased flexibility of the foot. The full sole offers extra support and is well suited for beginners who will advance to the split sole as they become more experienced and demand more flexibility of the foot.

There are many different suppliers of ballet shoes which can vary in quality significantly. The best way to ensure you get a pair that are good quality and comfortable is to buy them from a reputable brand such as Capezio, Bloch, Dance Gear or So Danca. All of these suppliers have many years experience in manufacturing ballet shoes. In particular, Capezio have over 100 years experience and expertise and to this day are still worn by many professionals but are suitable for dancers of all abilities.

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