Fuzi Ballet Slippers
by Amy Chen
Dancers these days are faced with a wide range of options in choosing a pair of soft ballet shoes. Leather or canvas? Split sole or full? Factors that determine what kind of shoe is best depend on a dancers age, the shape of the foot, and what kind of floor the dancer will be dancing on.

Leather vs. Canvas

Leather shoes should fit snug because the leather will stretch as the shoe is broken in. However, because canvas does not stretch, canvas shoes should be fit comfortably. Because canvas shoes generally contain more pleats than leather shoes, canvas shoes can accommodate a wider foot.

Especially with canvas shoes, when you are being fit for shoes don’t settle for the slightest amount of discomfort. Even though leather shoes should fit tight because they will stretch overtime, they should not be uncomfortably tight when they are new. Remember that if the shoe bothers you even just a little bit when you are trying it on in the dancewear store, it will only get worse when you are trying to dance in them for hours a day!

Young dancers should check with their school dress code before purchasing soft shoes. Some schools require young students to wear leather shoes or split sole shoes.

If you are dancing on a wood floor, you may prefer leather shoes to canvas shoes because leather shoes will provide more traction. However, if you are dancing on a Marley floor, you will probably prefer canvas shoes because leather has a tendency to stick to the floor.

One advantage that canvas shoes have over leather shoes is that it is easier to clean canvas shoes. Canvas shoes can be washed in a washing machine and air dried when they get dirty. Another advantage of canvas shoes is that they take virtually no time to break in.

As far as cost is concerned, there is a trade off between canvas and leather shoes. Leather shoes may last longer than canvas shoes, especially on wood floors. However, canvas shoes tend to be less expensive than leather shoes.

Full Sole vs. Split Sole

For young ballet students some teachers prefer a full sole shoe. A full sole offers more resistance than a split-sole, and is therefore important in building foot strength for students age 4 to 7. However, by the time a student reaches age 10 or 11, they may wish to try a split-sole shoe, which may be more flattering to the line of the foot. Again, young students should check with their teacher about what type of shoe to buy. Some teachers may require young students to wear full-soled shoes.

While many advanced students and professional dancers prefer a split-sole shoe, some feet look better in a full sole shoe.


Soft ballet shoes differ from each other in other ways. Some shoes come with drawstrings while others don’t. Some shoes have a seam under the arch while others are seamless. There are also hybrid shoes that have a leather upper and heel, but a canvas or elastic arch. Leo’s even offers a split-sole shoe that has a leather front and a stretch Lycra arch and heel (available at Chicago Dance Supply). Some shoes have a U-shaped vamp, while others have a “Russian” or V-shaped vamp. Some of these differences are aesthetic while others are functional—and to a dancer, what’s the difference?

The only way to know which shoe is right for you is the try several types and compare. Therefore, when you need a new pair of soft shoes, allow plenty of time for the fitting. Don’t expect to be able to find a good pair of shoes five minutes before class!

Companies are always designing new lasts (the mold that the shoe is formed on), new materials and new shoe construction. Even if you think you have a favorite shoe that you’ve used for years and years, when you are looking for a new pair of shoes try on a variety of styles and brands. You might find a new favorite!

Amy Chen received extensive ballet training as a child at the Royal Academy of Dance and Vaganova methods. She received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Michigan in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and more recently a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. Amy began her study of trapeze in 2001, and also studies acrobatics with Nourbol Meirmanov. Amy has taught circus-arts with Circesteem and The Adler Danztheatre and currently teaches for The Acrofabulous CircusJoel Hall Dancers and Center and The Skokie Park District. In her free time, Amy is an intellectual property lawyer and breathes fire.