Buying your first ballet shoes can be somewhat confusing. There are so many styles, materials, and soles to choose from! Usually your dance teacher will advise the best type for you, or a uniform list from a school will specify the type you need. Here's some advice to help you make the right choice for your level and style of dance.
Ballet shoes for all dancers should fit like a glove - snug, but not too small. You need to ensure there is enough room to wriggle your toes. When trying the shoes on you should stand in first position with your foot flat on the floor and tie the elastic suitably. Your toes should be flat to the floor, not curled up inside the shoe. Next, rise up onto the balls of your feet. The heel should stay securely in place and you should still have a little room to move your toes. Most UK retailers advise to order your normal UK street size which is usually the best way of getting the correct size for you.
With children's ballet shoes it is usually practice to go half a size and in some cases a full size up to allow for growing room. However, they should not be baggy or floppy where they could cause tripping. For examinations teachers will prefer that the shoes fit snugly.
Shoes with the elastics half sewn in or not attached enable you to sew them in the perfect position for your foot to ensure optimum comfort and security in the shoe.
The material of your ballet shoe is usually down to personal preference. Some dance teachers may recommend certain specifics so it is always best to check with your teacher. Satin shoes are the least durable ballet shoes, but are preferred for performances as they are less regularly worn and often look the best on stage. They can also be easily dyed to match an outfit or costume. Canvas are the most popular ballet shoes for general classes and beginners, and are easy to wash as they can usually be put in the washing machine/hand washed. Please always follow advised instructions with the shoes as canvas ones have been known to shrink from the washing machine. They are most suitable for dance on vinyl floors. Leather ballet shoes are more durable than canvas ones, and are usually a bit more expensive. However, they are preferred by more advanced or frequent dancers as they are longer lasting than satin or canvas shoes and some prefer the look of their pointe in a leather shoe. They are also preferred for dance on wooden floors.
All ballet shoes; satin, canvas, and leather, will stretch and give over time. The more regularly you dance, the more frequently you will need to replace your ballet shoes. It is natural for the material to wear in and soften over time, and they will start to lose their support.
Beginners should always start with a full sole ballet shoe to help support the arch of their feet when starting to learn. They also help the foot to achieve pointe as their feet develop and strengthen over time. Intermediate and Advanced dancers will develop into Split-Sole ballet shoes which allow much more flexibility and movement within the foot, as well as a stronger pointe. Split sole shoes also add the how aesthetically pleasing the arch looks when pointed. For those who have a limited pointe / arch this is a way of improving the look of how the foot looks when pointed.