“We dance to seduce ourselves. To fall in love with ourselves. When we dance with another, we manifest the very thing we love about ourselves so that they may see it and love us too.” - Kamand Kojouri
While the number of students opting for arts A-Levels, there are still plenty of places where you can do an A Level in Dance. Over 1,000 students did an A Level in Dance in 2018 and 84.8% got a C or above.
That said, regardless of your grade, you’re going to need suitable footwear. Here’s our advice on choosing the right shoes for both beginners and experts.
Which Type of Shoe Should You Get?
If you’re doing ballet, you’ll need some ballet slippers. There are different types in terms of the sole and the material they’re made from.
You can either get a split sole or a full sole which are usually made from leather or suede.
A full sole will cover the entire bottom of the slipper and is recommended for beginners regardless of their age. This is useful as it’ll help steady you when you first start dancing. Your foot will be more stable and you’ll be less likely to roll over onto your ankle as you’re building strength in your heel and your feet.
With a split sole, there’s a sole at the heel and the ball of your foot. There’s no sole under your arches. This allows for greater flexibility and to perfectly align your instep. However, you’ll need to learn some technique before you give it a go. You’ll need to reach an intermediate level and strengthen your heels before you try them.
There are three main types of material for ballet slippers:
- Leather: your slippers will last longer as this material is more solid. Opt for a comfortable size as they won’t soften much over time. As they’re harder, it takes more effort to move your feet around.
- Canvas: this material is softer and you’re more likely to put holes in them. They’re also more flexible and cheaper than leather slippers but they do tend to deform over time. Some dancers find them more comfortable than leather slippers as they also let your feet breathe more.
- Satin: the material for pointe shoes. These are quite uncommon but some dancers love them.
Some slippers have an elastic triangular band under the feet to bring flexibility and a better line when you’re pointing your feet. Even leather slippers can include this elastic band or canvas under your arches to help you move. To hold the slippers on your feet, there’s often elastic sewn onto the top of the foot.
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Which Slippers Should You Choose?
There are plenty of different models of ballet slipper and you’ll need to choose the one that works best for you. To ensure a quality item, you might want to opt for a popular brand: Repetto, Bloch, Capezio, Merlet, Sansha, etc. However, even some of the lesser-known brands can offer quality slippers.
When buying demi-pointes, the quality is important but not as much as when buying pointes. You’re unlikely to cause an injury by choosing the wrong ones unless you pick the wrong size. Here are three different shoes that we recommend for different levels, budgets, and preferences.
- Dancez Vous - Vanie: These are elasticated canvas split sole ballet slippers that you can get for around £15. Crossed elastic straps. The size tends to be on the smaller size so you might need to get one or two sizes up from what you regularly get.
- Capezio - Satin Daisy: This model has a full suede sole, an elastic strap, and is available for £15.50. There are two width options when buying.
- Bloch - Ladies Proflex Leather: You can get these ballet slippers for £29 from the manufacturer. There’s on the arch so that the ballet shoe follows your instep more easily. They’re available in two widths.
The Best Pointe Shoes for Ballet
To move up a level in ballet, you may want to invest in some pointe shoes. However, never do this without your dance teacher’s blessing. They’ll tell you when you’re ready to move onto pointe shoes. Pointe technique is much more difficult with pointe shoes so it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Much like with ballet shoes and slippers, there are several criteria to take into account. Most of the time, there’ll be a full leather sole. However, there are split sole models available. In terms of material, pointe shoes are made of satin and so are the ankle straps.
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While the width won’t be too important when it comes to ballet slippers and dance shoes, when it comes to pointe shoes, it’s essential. You’ll have a choice of three widths:
If it’s too tight around your joints when you put a pair of pointe shoes on, you’ll need to go up a width. On the other hand, if you feel your foot sliding to the bottom of the pointe shoe, it’s too wide.
The Strength of the Shank
Pointe shoes are reinforced at the shank which supports the sole. There are different levels available from soft to extra strong. Beginners, who tend to lack strength, will opt for a soft shank. Strong experienced dancers will tend to go for a strong shank.
The shank needs to bend slightly and follow the arch of your foot. If it bends too much, your shank is too soft, but if it doesn’t bend at all, your shank is too hard. In the first example, you’ll ruin your pointe shoes in 3 or 4 lessons and the second example, you’ll hurt your toes. Each time you buy some pointe shoes, you need to think about the hardness of your shank.
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The Length of the Upper
This is how much of the shoe covers the top of your toes and foot. It needs to be long enough to cover your toes up to the joint on the pointe. However, if it’s too long, it’ll cover the pointe. which you don’t want.
The Shape of the Inside
You also need to choose pointe shoes whose insides match the shape of your foot. Generally, these shapes are either square or conical.
There are three types of feet: Greek feet where the second toe is longer than the big toe, Egyptian feet where the big toe is the longest and each subsequent toe is smaller, and Peasant foot where the toes are all the same size.
If you’re in the third category, things will be easier for you.
If you feel all your weight on your big toe, the inside of your pointe shoe is too square. If your toes feel crushed, then the inside is too triangular.
Which Pointe Shoes Should You Choose?
Don’t hesitate to ask your dance teacher for recommendations on pointe shoes. Here are three models that are great for beginners:
- Repetto - Julietta: Flexible sole, low upper, high heel. Different widths are available: narrow, medium, large. They tend to be on the smaller size so you may need a size or two bigger than what you usually get.
- Bloch - Amelie: Medium strength shank, shallow box, medium sides. Three widths are available.
- Wear Moi - La Pointe Beginners: A square box for those with Peasant Feet. There are six widths and six hardnesses available.
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How to Choose Your Ballet Slippers or Pointe Shoes
Budding ballerinas, in addition to choosing their tights and leotards, should probably try their shoes in-store. We wouldn’t recommend buying your shoes online unless you know your exact size for a particular model.
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For Ballet Slippers
Your toes shouldn’t slide around but they also shouldn’t be squashed together. When you try them, don’t hesitate to test the flexibility and make sure that the shoes don’t move around too much.
For Pointe Shoes
Take your time when choosing pointe shoes. It doesn’t matter if all your friends if your friends have Repettos if they don’t work for you. Don’t hesitate to try different brands and models. You must try your shoes first so that you know they won’t cause an injury.
Don’t buy used pointe shoes! Pointe shoes will adjust to a dancer’s foot. After you buy your pointe shoes, you need to break them in before you can do anything with them.
In terms of colour, you’ll usually have a choice between pink or black. There are other colours available but you might want to check with your teacher if there’s going to be an end-of-year show where you need to wear a particular colour. The rest is up to you!
Whether you're in the market for jazz shoes, tap shoes, ballet flats, or any kind of dance shoe, you should consider asking your teacher or instructor for advice.