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and demystify the world of ballet for those who don't.

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No-nonsense: ballet shoes 1

We're going to run a series of posts called 'no-nonsense'. Each post will examine a common cause for concern amongst young dancers/their parents.

     In a nutshell:
     - you need ballet shoes to do ballet
     - we advise you to have ballet shows professionally fitted
     - if in doubt on colour and style, follow your studio/school's dress code

     For the full low-down, carry on reading...


Ballet shoes are the essential piece of equipment for all dancers. They are light, close fitting shoes which allow full movement of the foot and ankle, show off the shape of the foot and permit just the right amount of stick and slide for dancing ballet steps.

The most important piece of advice about ballet shoes is this: always have your ballet shoes professionally fitted. This means going to a dancewear shop, trying on the shoes and having an expert tell you which size is best.

Why is this? Well, first, if you are new to dancing you may be surprised how snugly ballet shoes are meant to fit. Ballet shoes fit much more snugly than normal shoes (although not tightly) and should not be bought with room to grow. They need to fit like a glove to ensure the shape of your feet can be seen - and to make sure you don't slide around. Loose shoes can be dangerous! (You can see how a good pair of shoes fits at the start of this excellent clip about ballet and martial arts.)

A well-pointed foot in a well-fitted shoe

Another reason is that different brands of shoe have different sizing systems. You may be a 35 with one brand but a 39 with another. This makes ordering on the Internet or by mail-order tricky unless you select exactly the same model and make of shoe. Feet that are still growing only complicate matters.

If you don't live anywhere near a suitable shop, mail-order may be the only way to go but take care the shoes are properly fitting. Once you know your sizes, ordering online can be practical.

What kinds of shoes are there?

Ballet shoes are pretty much the same the world over. There are two main variables: material and sole.


Men's ballet shoes are either made from leather or canvas. There is not really that much difference. For class, some schools specify one material over the other and any dress codes should be followed. If no material is specified you should try both - all dancers have their own preference. For costumes, one material may be preferable over the other for aesthetic reasons.

Black leather shoes

- Leather shoes generally last longer than canvas shoes but they are a bit more expensive. The leather is very thin and supple - this means leather shoes can stretch a bit more than canvas shoes.

- Canvas shoes are easier to wash and white canvas shoes can be dyed any colour for costumes. Some people say canvas shoes are better for studio floors (black leather can mark) but others say canvas can be more slippery - it depends on your particular floor and how it's cleaned.


Ballet shoes come either with a full-sole or with a split-sole. With a full-sole, the material extends for the length of the foot; a split-sole shoe just has two pads of sole (one under the toe, the other under the heel). You will see professional dancers wearing both kinds of shoe...

A full-sole canvas shoe

- Some people believe full-sole shoes are better for younger dancers because they make the foot work harder and offer more support. The boys at the Royal Ballet School Lower School, for example, wear full-sole shoes.

A split-sole canvas shoe

- Split-sole shoes are meant to hug the foot's arch better and give a better shape to the pointed foot.

Again, there is not much to choose between them but some teachers may express a preference.


Most schools specify a colour in their dress codes. The traditional colours for men's class shoes are white and black. Typically, to keep a nice line, black shoes are worn with black tights; white shoes when white socks are worn. You will, however, see different combinations. In France, the standard colour for men's shoes is grey because they prefer grey tights. You also see flesh-coloured shoes worn with bare feet. Lighter colours obviously show up more dirt.

Boys from the Paris Opera Ballet School wearing dyed shoes.

Boys' shoes?

In smaller sizes there is usually no difference between shoes for boys and girls. In larger sizes, men's and women's shoes are usually different or, at least, sized differently. It depends on the manufacturer so ask for advice from the supplier. NB Different manufacturers' shoes offer slight variations in width so it is worth shopping around to find the best fit.


Sounds like a silly question, doesn't it? But it's not if you're not used to ballet shoes. Nearly all manufacturers' shoes are wearable on either foot. Shoes which are left/right-formed are rather specialist - if you do come across them you will normally be able to tell by the asymmetrical sole.

Our next post in this series will discuss how to sew elastics onto new shoes...


  1. My son is going to take his dance class this month end, when he is 2yrs 10mos old. He fell in love with dancing at his first trial class. We can't wait for the session to begin. Now I am shopping around for his shoes, clothes and find your site so helpful, thank you!

    Btw, I happened to buy the shoes (tapping shoes and ballet shoes) half size bigger than his street shoe, but find he seems all right with those shoes, do I need to buy smaller size? Those shoes are expensive....- -||

  2. Ballet and other dance shoes often need to be bought bigger than street shoe size. They tend to come up small. We strongly advise you seek professional fitting advice and do not buy shoes with room to grow.

  3. Thank you, Richard!
    I called the program director and she said since the shoe don't get off, they are OK.
    My son's shoes are just half size bigger than his street shoe, he jumps and runs well with them, so I hope they can fit soon. I will remember what you said and won't be so cheap in future....
    Btw, you look sooooo cute on your first lessons, I'll take a camera to my son's,too!

  4. You're welcome! (And thanks.) Let us know if there is any information you need which isn't on here and one of us will try to help. Feedback is very useful. R

  5. I'm writing a story about a boy doing ballet and I really needed this info. Thanks heaps!

  6. Great informative post. My son already takes ballroom lessons but is starting ballet at his school this week and I was clueless about what shoes to get him and if he needed socks to go with them. Thank you for writing this, it was very helpful!

  7. my 3 year old son loves his black ballet shoes but doens't like the bow. How can I hide the bow?

    1. Andrea,
      My son (12 years old) tucks the bow inside the shoe so that when he puts them on, the bow is not seen. My son actually pulls the shoe tight, ties it off, clips off any extra and tucks the rest under. Good luck - little boys in ballet are the CUTEST!

  8. I realize this is an old question, so hopefully you got good advice sometime this fall! There should BE NO BOW on ballet slippers whether they are being worn by a girl or a boy. Pull the drawstring so it is comfortable around his foot. Tie in a double-knot. Be sure it isn't slipping (you don't want to have to fish it out of the shoe later, that's not fun), Trim the ends to about 1 1/2" in case you need to loosen it later, then TUCK THEM IN the shoe when he puts his foot in :)