A Short History Of Ballet Shoes

Submitted by: Cedric Grosjean

Any great art, and also sport, requires specific and unique equipment in order to help the performer to excel. Ballet, of course, is no different. Although ballet is extremely physically demanding, other than the dancer themselves, the only item that needs to perform under pressure is a dancer s clothing. Especially ballet shoes. In order to help create one of the most graceful and beautiful sights that can be beheld, these specifically designed items of footwear are a must. Otherwise known as ballet slippers, they have evolved over the years to meet the needs of most dancers.

Ballet has its origins in Italy in the 15th century, where performances of music and dance, with movements based around the motions of fencing, became very popular. These performances during the Renaissance were no doubt displays of great elegance and talent. But there was a major difference between these balletto dances and modern ballet. There was no clothing specifically for dancers clothes worn were those in fashion at the time, and ballet shoes did not appear for a very long time. By the 17th century ballet had reached the courts of the French king Louis XIV. This period in the history of ballet is the reason for many modern terms used that are French in origin. Aristocrats of the era, unlike many others, wore very fine shoes. Typically with delicate uppers of damask with silk, linen or other valuable materials, the soles of these shoes were leather. Although many varieties in these shoes existed, it is widely though that the king s own shoes despite their raised heels were the inspiration for ballet shoes as we know them today. It is said that while dancing he would extend his feet and legs to show off his extremely expensive foot wear. The elegance of these moves and also the shoes soon caught on and became popularised.


Initially it seems these shoes were used purely for appearance, emphasizing graceful and stylish movements. As time progressed, so of course did ballet shoes themselves. Raised heels that had benefited the French monarch in his day to day life were certainly not necessary. Through time ballet itself underwent many changes and had spells of great popularity in different countries notably Denmark and Russia – but materials used for ballet shoes endured. Today the primary materials that make ballet shoes are still the same, a great indication of their suitability. Leather is the most long lasting and the warmest material used, although the most expensive, and is considered suitable for both men and women to use. Satin shoes are easy to dye to specific colours and are traditionally worn by women, although this is dependent on the role in being performed. Canvas shoes are usually worn by men and are less costly than leather versions, and also allow feet to breath easily. All shoes are flexible and ideal for dancing, although often they are tailored for specific needs.

The seeming simplicity of the designs of ballet shoes, and the fact they are so necessary and relied upon in modern dancing, may lead some to believe they emerged with ballet itself. But delving into the history of ballet and ballet shoes themselves tells a fascinating story about how they came to be what they are today.

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