Ballet Shoes – A Quick History

Ballet shoes, sometimes referred to as ballet slippers, are lightweight shoes which are specifically designed for ballet dancing. They are available in soft leather, canvas and satin, and have thin flexible soles. It is tradition for women to wear pink ballet shoes and men to where white shoes but this is not always observed in modern ballet schools. Tan or flesh coloured shoes are often worn by both men and women as they create the appearance of dancing barefoot.

The history of the ballet shoe can be traced back as far as 1681, twenty years after King Louis XIV of France ordered the founding of the Royal Academy of Dance – an institution which still survives today. At this time, a standard pair of women’s ballet shoes had heels. This changed during the mid 18th Century when a dancer named Marie Camargo of the Paris Opera Ballet was the first to wear a non-heeled shoe. This enabled her to achieve higher leaps that would have been incredibly difficult, if not impossible, in the more conventional heeled shoes of the time. Following the French Revolution, heeled shoes were no longer the standard. They were replaced by flat shoes which were secured to the feet by ribbons. The shoes also incorporated pleats under the toes to enable dancers to leap, execute turns and fully extend their feet.

All ballet shoes have a very similar construction which has remained largely the same for many years. They traditionally have a leather or canvas sole which does not reach all the way to the edges of the foot. A modern development for more advanced dancers is to wear a split sole. This type of sole does not meet in the middle of the sole like a full sole in order to allow for greater flexibility. The upper is usually made from leather, canvas or satin. Leather is the most long lasting, flexible and comfortable of fabrics but also the most expensive. Canvas shoes are less expensive and often preferred by male dancers. However, they tend to wear more quickly than leather ballet shoes. Satin ballet shoes are generally only worn for performance as they wear out very quickly.

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