About Ballet Dance Wear & Shoes

About Dance Wear:

Would you wear a football helmet to play basketball?
Would you wear basketball shorts to go snow skiing? So why wear gymnastic clothing for a ballet class?

Unique styles of clothing develop through attempts to improve performance and to meet the unique needs of the selected activity. The football player needs protection thus there is the helmet, great for football, too view constricting for basketball. At the first sliding downhill fall, the skier wearing basketball attire would tear his/her unprotected skin to shreds.

Dance wear has evolved to meet its unique needs, just like football, basketball, ... In the early 1900's dance wear looked like swim wear, and swim wear looked more like a dress with bloomers. Both swim wear and dance wear evolved into body hugging shorts and top. Then swimming got the bathing suit and dancing got the leotard. But dance has many forms, each with its own unique needs.

Dance studio wear is not a fashion statement. Dance gear is selected to improve performance. Even hair style effects performance. Hair is not warn up so a student can look like a ballet dancers. A student cannot dance like a ballet dancer unless the hair is out of the eyes for clear sighting (spotting) while turning.

Modern Dance includes falls (from standing to lying on the floor.) Obviously a dancer would get tangled up doing this in a traditional ballet skirt. Falls, often broken with an arm sliding on the floor, make long sleeves appealing. Tights without feet were developed for Modern Dance since it is performed barefoot. Then the desire to get rid of bulky layers led to joining the leotard and tights into the unitard.

Aerobics is a form of movement to music that has no intention of staging a performance. Being gym bound for life provided new freedoms to dance wear designs for it meant no concern for group conformity, or the effects of stage lighting on fabrics. The purpose of aerobics is to get the heart pumping. That means no rest stops and the body gets hot. The tank leotard became the standard. Tights got shortened to "bike shorts" & the combination was invented the "Biketard". Aerobic's method of getting the heart pumping includes series of bouncy jumps. This resulted in a need for shock absorption greater than the typical dance shoe provides. The light weight tennis shoe became the solution. As aerobics became fashionable, dance wear became high fashion. Multi-colors, patterns, you name it and a leotard became created in it. Great fun for the gym, but not automatically appropriate in the dance studio.

Ballet needed shoes of incredible specialization.  Bodies needed a covering that was warm, but not too warm, and extremely flexible.  Ballet classes consist of repeating methodical exercise followed by rest followed by exercise followed by rest, followed by exercise... The ballet dancer must wear clothing that is not too hot during exercise but prevents too much cool down during rests.
Ballet (before cross-pollinating with modern dance) was performed mostly in standing position. Without concern for falls, ballet evolved into sleeves of various lengths.

Unique to ballet is the barre work where cold bodies are gradually warmed. This has resulted in the development of over wear. "Warm-ups" are sweaters, tights, leg & arm warmers to be worn over regular dance wear until the body has been warmed up. They are also used to keep the body warm during extended rest periods such as between class and rehearsal.

The signature of ballet, the tutu evolved because there is nothing like a guy trying to grab gal before her body  hits the floor and coming up with only a handful of skirt. But, tutu's are not class wear.  They are costumes for stage wear.  Class wear consists of tights and leotards.

Feedback from Tights and Leotards

If your leotard is not wet at end of class, you need to work harder.  While most parents are constantly shouting, "Keep your cloths clean!" tights need to get dirty. With proper execution of steps, the working foot touches the supporting leg from arch to knee. There should be dirt lines on the inside of ankles and knees, lines from inside arch to ankle to inside knee.  Check it out.  If there are no marks, or marks are too low, too high, make adjustments in your technique.  If tights are dirty from ankle to knee, the entire foot is being propped against the supporting leg - a no no.  There should just be a toe sized mark.

How to Clean Tights and Leotards:

Tights and Leotards can be cleaned by hand or delicate wash cycle.  Drip dry.  The 1st time out of the dryer, they will look ok.  About the 6th time they come out of the dryer you will notice they have lost their shape.
Everything in a good ballet studio exists for a reason and a purpose, including the shoes and dance wear.

The Ballet Foot Moves

So Must The Shoe

The amazing design of Ballet Slippers is over looked for so many have their sights set on Pointe Shoes. The ballet slipper, fits like a glove, molds to the shape of the owner's unique foot, yet twists and moves and bends without a pinch. It is a brake, allowing the dancer to land from any angle without skidding. At the same time it is as smooth as glass, offering little resistance when the dancer turns several revolutions.

About Ballet Slippers

Notice that toes are smaller between joints. The ballet slipper's pleated toe attaches to the sole of the shoe in the space between toe joints. This helps distribute weight and adds balance. But if the shoe is too long or short, the dancer may feel she is standing on an uncomfortable wad of something.

Notice the heel curves up from the floor.  The sole of the shoe should end slightly before the heel of the foot ends. To extend the sole further can cause problems in releve. Too much heel past the end of the sole can be uncomfortable. Try a larger size. Sometimes the fit is right, but the dancer's foot is sensitive. Try padding with a Kleenex, or small amount of lambs wool until shoe and foot get used to each other.

(P.S. The big foot pictured above belongs to me. It's danced in soft ballet shoes for over 50 years. It's been in pointe shoes for decades. It's still working great. Any damage done has been from improperly fit street shoes. If you are a tennis street shoe maker, would you please make one for long toes, high arches, and narrow heels? At the least, could you stop making women's' shoes on men's' molds?

(F) and (X) are "full sole" ballet shoes but only one is zandance recommended. The best "full sole" for ballet is actually shorter than full length, stopping at the end of the ball of the foot, allowing the toes to grip the floor as needed. There are many (X) extended full shoes on the market and should be avoided. They allow the foot to slip within the shoe, reduce balance by limiting toe movement. The (F) full sole is the traditional ballet shoe that has graced feet for decades with very little change because it works well.

The third choice is the (S) split sole.  There is no sole under the arch.  The dancer connects to the floor with the toes, ball of foot and heel, not the space under the arch.  No sole under the arch allows free movement and improves the view of the arch. 

WHICH IS BEST? Full or Split?
The “full sole” (X) extend almost the full length of the foot is not recommended. Trying to dance in them is a bit like trying to thread a needle with work gloves on. It can be done, but why try? The standard "full sole" (F) that's closer to a 3/4 sole is a workable shoe and a favorite for many for years.

The  (S) “split sole” follows the shape of the arch better than the full sole. This improves the artistic lines being drawn in space and that’s what ballet is all about. It is most shaped like the foot, allowing the shoe to move with the foot, improving line and improving the instructor's ability to see the foot work. Some instructors don't like them insisting that a full sole cause the foot to work harder. I can't see it, nor have I found any research to support this claim. The ballet slipper, full or split, is very light weight and flexible. It hardly seems either would offer enough resistance to strengthen a foot. When I used full sole shoes, I felt like my foot slipped inside of the shoe during a tondu. I don't get that feeling with a split sole.

This refers to the upper portion of the shoe, not the sole. Different types of leather are used by different shoe makers. Ballet shoes are also made of imitation leather. While these are less expensive, they do not stretch as much. Leather is a better buy for growing feet than imitation leather. The term "Canvas" should be replaced with the word "Cloth" for the canvas shoe is a far cry from the canvas one might find on a sail boat.

Canvas uppers have become popular in recent year. Initially canvas cost less than leather. Recently the price of leather has not increased as fast as the price of canvas. As of today, it is difficult to say if the leather shoe will last so much longer than the well made canvas shoe that it justifies the additional cost.

Some ballet slippers are made of satin. Satin can be great fun for performance but not standard classroom issue. Satin shoes made by a ballet shoe manufacturer are acceptable shoes. There are imitation ballet shoes made of satin on the market. These make great bedroom slippers but have little to offer dancing feet on stage or in class. (Clue: Real ballet slippers have no padding.)

Fitting of Ballet Slippers

The ballet slipper should be comfortably snug. Too much space allows the foot to slip within the shoe - something that is not good.  Ballet Slippers stretch and form to the foot. Allowing growing room turns to slop. In addition, the shoe too large may place the end of the sole in an uncomfortable place. Besides, compared to tennis shoes, ballet slippers are reasonably
After 2 years of wear, this shoe has completely shaped to the dancer's foot. It is now about 2 sizes larger than it began.  It is leather.  Canvas does not stretch as much.
The wear pattern on above shoe indicates the shoe was not a match for the foot.  The front sole is narrower than the ball of the foot.  The back sole started in the unused arch area and ended before the heel of the foot that was in use.  In spite of these problems, the dancer was happy after the shoes stretched to match the foot.

Old Shoes Teach

Keep a close watch on the wear pattern of ballet shoes. It offers valuable feedback.
1: If the shoe wears out on the instep side of the sole (the big toe side) but not on the outer side (little toe side) the dancer is rolling in. This is often a result of attempting to get the turnout from the feet rather than the hips. This risks injuries to ankles and knees, and the dancer will find movement very awkward.
2: I wear marks wrap the little toe the dancer is cycling, brushing the little toe on the floor when pointing it to the front. Another ungood thing to do. The foot should always rotate outward not inward.
3: If the dancer is properly aligned the dirt, scuff marks, wear marks will be in a straight line down the sole of the shoe, from toe to heel.
WHICH IS BEST? Canvas or Leather?

It seems to depend on the dancer's foot. Some dancers prefer canvas because they feel they have a better grasp of the floor and teachers can see feet working better. Canvas does not stretch as much as leather so it does not shape to foot over time as much as leather.
3 Basic Choices
Beware of (X)
A properly fit
(S) split sole
ballet slipper.

Dirt is a sign of hard work, an award of honor.  If needed use  wet cloth and air dry.



Foot Who?

Ballet Tights

extend over the entire foot, like panty hose, and are referred to as "footed" or "full foot".
Ballet tights are different from panty hose. The fabric has more stretch and warmth.
Ballet tights are also thicker and more opaque. They will last longer if you pull the fabric back toward the toes while putting them on.

"Footless" tights are dance tights designed for Modern Dance, Jazz, and other forms of movement. They are made of the same fabric as footed tights, so they keep muscles warm and stretch well.

Once upon a time, a ballet dancer was a ballet dancer. A modern dancer was a modern dancer. A tap dancer was a tap dancer. A jazz dancer was a jazz dancer. Now a dancer may take a class in each, one right after the other. The dance wear industry has risen to the challenge with "convertible tights." Convertibles are full footed tights with a hole in the bottom of the arch. Come from ballet, pull the toes through the hole, roll up a little and wellah - footless for the next class without having to change clothing.

Ballet Leotard Basics:

The body of all ballet leotards are about the same. Fabrics vary. Spandex has good stretch, holds it's shape but does not absorb moisture.  Cotton absorbs moisture, but does not stretch.  Mixtures of the 2 solve the problems.  Each maker has a slightly different leg hole cut.  Some ride up into the crotch, others do not.  Find a maker that produces a leotard that does not require adjustment every few minutes.  Spending class tugging the leotard up or down is distracting."Long Sleeve" leotard extends to the wrist. "3/4 Sleeve" ends between wrist and elbow. "Short Sleeve" ends between elbow and shoulder. "Cap Sleeve" barely covers the shoulder. "Tank" has no sleeve, just a strap between shoulder and neck that varies in width from 3/4" to 1.5" and the "Camisole" has a strap of less than a half inch in width.

The "basic leotard" has a "scoop neck" or circular shape at head opening. The scoop neck shape can be changed by gathering, pulling fabric together at center front and is called a "pinched" front. The "square neck" is straight down and straight across the front, not scooped.
"High Back" is the basic style.  The neck hole ends above the bra strap in the back. "Low Back" extends the neck hole below the bar strap line.
A "Lined" leotards provides an extra layer of fabric in the front.  This eliminates the need for a bra with the low back leotards.  (Many dancers do not wear bras under their swimsuits or leotards.)
"Body darts" are vertical seams in the leotard.  They add a bit of shape and style to the leotard.
"Dancer's Leg Cut" has a lower than a "High Leg Cut."  Some high leg cuts extend almost to the waist.  A well designed dancer's leg cut is high enough to clear the hip socket so there is no binding when leg is extended.


Come in a variety of styles.  Above are called leg warmers.

Beginning youth should only wear them at the beginning of class, between and after classes.  Adults find warm-ups helpful for the entire class.
Intermediate and Advanced dancers of all ages find them helpful assists to correcting problems.  For example, if hip socket muscles are too tight, warm-up shorts can add heat making the hip socket muscles warm and become more flexible.  If ankles are a problem, then warm-ups that extend below the ankle are helpful.



Practice Skirts


are fun for students and a great way to develop BAD technique.  I do not recommend them for beginning classes.  They block view of body alignment.  If you must wear one, select a sheer skirt that does not hide body alignment.  The appropriate use of skirts are during dance rehearsals.  If the costume will be a long skirt, then a long practice skirt is helpful.  If the costume will be a tutu, then a practice tutu is helpful. If the costume has a short skirt, then a short practice skirt is helpful.

Dance Bags

A must.  Keep your supplies ready to go.  "I can't find my shoes," is a cry no one wants to hear.

Jewelry and Gum:

Ballet is fast turns and jumps.  No one wants to get hit in the eye with a flying piece of jewelry, or slip on something fallen onto the floor.  Gum can be inhaled - not a healthy situation.


These are a leotard and a pair of tights combined.  Styles use same descriptive terms as leotards.  They can be used as a costume for a contemporary ballet dance. Consult your instructor before purchase.  Some ballet teachers prefer tights and leotards.

About Pointe





Purchase Only With Instructor Permission
PLATFORM: The part of the shoe that makes contact with the floor when a dancer is up on pointe. It's the toe nail end of the box. A square box shoe has a "wider" platform than a "V" shaped box. Beginners find more stability in a wider platform shoe. Advanced dancers have developed their awareness of body alignment and balance to the point that they could dance on a platform the size of a quarter. The smaller the platform the less resistance offered by the floor so it is easier to turn, but the small the platform the harder to control balance.

FAQ: Pointe Shoes

Where Can I Get Toe Shoes For My 4 year Old?

Toe Shoes are NOT toys.  No child under age 10 should wear toe shoes.  No child should ever "play" in toe shoes.  Bones in the feet are not hard enough to endure toe shoes until age 10.  In addition to bones, there are other factors.  Toe (Pointe) Shoes should only be used as a teacher instructs.

When Can I Get Pointe Shoes?

Age is not the only factor.  Technique plays an important role.  Muscles must be strong.  The body must be properly aligned.  Good habits must be formed because you don't need to be thinking about how to do the basics - the basics should be automatic, leaving the mind free to think about how make pointe shoes work..  A growth spurt can cause a 10 year old to dance like an 8 year old for a while so there is no set rule that applies to all.
Each teacher has their own set of rules.  My rule is age 10 with 2 years+ experience with at least a year of 2 classes per week attended consistently and good technique and good body alignment. This is the minimum minimum.  Most teachers expect more, but I start students with very few minutes per week on pointe.  Other teachers, with higher minimums have students on pointe longer, sooner.

If I start ballet at age 4, will I get my pointe shoes sooner?

NO! No matter how good the dancer is, one must wait for the bones to get hard enough to support the body for pointe work. This is a big problem for dancers who start very young.

What Does My Teacher Mean





These words echo thru every beginning pointe class in every studio. It means that if one drew dots on the supporting leg's toes, ankle, knee, hip, and then connected those dots, it would produce a straight line. The pointe shoe platform would be flat on the floor. (Some people have an extra bone in their feet, located between heel and ankle. For such persons, it is physically impossible to get over their pointes, no matter how hard they try.)

What's the best toe pad or cushion?

Toe pads or cushions fit inside the box to protect the toes. They also help to glue the foot into the box in a comfortable way. The only ones that I cannot recommend are ones made from materials that do not absorb moisture for they can cause blisters. (Some solve the problem with a moisture absorbing fabric lining.)

What Are TOE CAPS?

(These are not cushions) Dr. Alan Woodle DPN invented Toe Caps. They benefit dancers who have one or more toes longer than the others. Toe caps distribute the weight of the body as if all toes were even length. The dancer takes her feet and pointe shoes to Dr. Woodle and he makes them to fit the dancerÂ’s unique feet. Since toes tend to grow in proportion, many dancers can get years of use out of a set of toe caps even tho feet are still growing.
ARCH: The center bottom of the shoe that should hug the instep of the foot. Most USA made shoes are "pre-arched." They arrive new with the shoe sole arch shaped. English and most non-USA shoes are not pre-ached. The USA arched style can be found in ad pictures as early as 1925. It has gone by different names. Leo called it "Hollow Arch" and Capezio "Concave" in 1928; Advance Theatrical Shoe Co. called it "Rainbow Arch" in 1934. Maria Dare’s pointe shoes of 1930’s-40’s vintage include Concave Arched shoes by Capezio, Nicoline by Capezio, and Landi. A Nicolini Romeo made in Italy has no arch. The Gaynor Minden pointe shoe arrives pre-arched but can be adjusted to flat or any shape by heating the shank's arch area with a hair blow dryer.

Beginners may find the pre-arched shoe easier to use at first. Dancers who are shank snappers, (have strong or over developed arches) will find the flat style offers better results.

SHANK: The support inside the shoe, under the arch / bottom of foot. Some shoes have shanks that run almost the entire length of the from toe to heel. Others have a 3/4 shank that extends from toes thru the instep only.

BOX: The part of the shoe that surrounds the toes and knuckles. A snug fit around the knuckles distributes body weight to the entire shoe rather than crushing down on the end of the toes. The shape of the box varies. Many pointe shoes have a "square" box, that works well when all toes are approximately the same length. Many other pointe shoes have a "V" shape, that works great when toes vary in length. Grishko offers a "U" shape.

VAMP: The front of the box, often referred as having a "short" or "deep" vamp. A short vamp works for short toes, while a deep vamp is best for long toes.

HEEL: The back of the shoe.


Pointe Shoe Terms:

SIZE: Refers to the length of the shoe. English Pointe Shoes sizes are about 2 sizes smaller than street shoe sizes. Most USA made shoes follow this rule. Gaynor Minden attempted to match street shoes sizes and is often a size large than street shoe size.

WIDTH: For traditional shoes, "width" refers to the width of the shoe with X being narrow, XXXX being wide. For Gaynor Minden, "width" refers to the width at back of shoe - the amount of fabric, not the width of the entire shoe, and is N (narrow) M(medium} or W(wide). The width at the front of the shoe is reflected in box sizes that are 2(narrow) 3(medium) or 4(wide). There is also variation in box shapes between 2, 3, and 4.


Is it true that toe shoes damage your feet?

Pointe shoes are lovingly nicknamed as "torture chambers" by ballerinas. They are not as bad for the feet as most believe. Their bad reputation stems from poor fit, poor technique, starting too young. In fact I suspect that proper use of properly fit pointe shoes does far less damage than wearing high heel street shoes with pointed toes. A well fit pointe shoe distributes body weight over the entire foot so what's the problem?

Ever hear a dancer tell a story about removing her pointe shoe and pouring blood out of them? It happens but don't blame the pointe shoe. 1) Using toe padding that does not absorb moisture will cause the foot to slip in the box and the slipping is like using sandpaper on the skin. 2) Gradual increases of time on pointe allows the skin to thicken and results in a layer of protection. Take a leap from a few minutes of pointe work to hours of rehearsal and there will be blistering, often bleeding blisters. 3) Rather than having several pair of pointe shoes broken in, the dancer has just one pair. Surprise the old comfortable broken in pair just dies at rehearsal, so a new pair is used. New shoes are like wear sharp edges.

How can I Protect my feet while on Pointe?

The best protection is a well fitted pointe shoe. A well fitted pointe shoe makes all the difference in performance and in protection from injury. Getting the right combination of options in a pointe shoe, while learning about the unique aspects of your feet can reduce injury. The secret is to make the shoe conform to the foot rather than making the foot conform to the shoe. The goal is to use the shoe to distribute body weight over the entire foot. If this is done, then standing on pointe is not that much different from standing on demi-pointe. The shoe too big allows the foot to slip down inside and all body weight becomes focused on a small space that can cause damage over time. The shoe too small can cut off circulation.


Why does my toe nail turn black from pointe work?

There are several possibilities.  All relate to poor fit of the shoe. Is the foot slipping in the box, allowing full body weight to slam down on the toe nail?  If so, a narrower box or different style of box may solve the problem.  Before changing shoes, try additional padding just above the toe, or around the other toes, or...  Experiment, but do not add pressure to the toe with the problem..  Is that toe longer than the others? If so then Toe Caps may solve the problem. Is that foot larger than the other? If so did you fit the pointe shoes to the smaller foot?

What about toes of uneven lengths?

Toe lengths are an important factor. One or two toes longer than the others can cause body weight to be focused on those toes even in well fit shoes. When the big toe is significantly longer or shorter than the other toes, he dancer may experience wobbles while on pointe even tho muscles are strong and technique is good. These wobbles are dangerous for while doing something tricky a wobble can unlock a supporting joint, the dancer can come down in an unusual positions and twist an ankle or pull a muscle. Dr. Alan Woodle has invented a solution for this problem.

What about feet of different size?

Few dancers have two feet of equal size. Pointe shoes should be fitted to the larger foot. Gaynor Minden cushions, that glue into the shoe and become a part of the shoe, can adjust the size for the smaller foot. If there is more than a size difference between the feet, then the dancer should purchase 2 pair of pointe shoes, one pair for each sized foot.
Page Updated:  26 Jan 2015
by Rozanne of zandance.com
Contact: info@zandance.com
See Also:
Pointe Shoe Developments in ads 1924-1938.
See Also:
List of Pointe Shoe Makers

Ballet Shoes: Types & Proper Fitting
About Dance Tights & Leotards
Practice Skirts, Dance Bage,
Jewelry & Gum
Pointe Shoe Terms: Box, Vamp, etc.
Pointe Shoes: When Can I Get Them?
Do Pointe Shoes Damage Feet?