Ballet shoes are soft, graceful and lightweight shoes we see on every ballet dancer from little girls to swan-like professionals. This is what most of us know about ballet shoes in general. But there are many things that make these shoes special and interesting that only ballet dancers know. Let’s shed some light on them.
There’s No Left and Right Shoe
Ballet shoes will fit either foot. It’s for the dancer to decide which one will be right and which one left. It’s best to determine this when they are still brand new, and not switch them afterwards. That’s because one’s right and left foot are slightly different and with time each ballet shoe will mould to the shape of each foot. To identify which one is which, some dancers write R on the shoe that’s intended for their right foot and L for the left.
They Have a Very Short Shelf Life
Pointe shoes which are ballet shoes used by professional ballet dancers when performing pointe work, last for only two to twenty hours of dancing. This will largely depend on the dancer’s experience level. For instance, for a dance student with moderate usage, a pair of pointe shoes will last around 10 to twenty hours of wear. On the other hand, a pair of pointe may be worn out in just one demanding ballet performance that lasts for two hours (like the physically and technically demanding role of the Black Swan in ”Swan Lake”). A professional ballerina can go through roughly 100 and 120 pointe shoes in a single dancing year. This is the reason why professional dancers in the Australian Ballet receive pointe shoes each week as a supplement to their weekly wage.
Wearing tights with the shoes can apparently make them last a bit longer because when barefoot, feet can get sweaty and the shoes can get ruined a bit more quickly. Tights help keep spacers and plasters in place for pointe work and reduce the friction of skin against the lining of the shoe to a certain extent. For those that for some reason can’t stand wearing tights, nude-coloured ankle socks are also an option.
Once they are completely worn out (or as ballerinas like to say they are ‘dead’,) pointe shoes are just thrown away. But it’s not uncommon for many professional ballerinas to get letters from fans asking for the used shoes to be signed and auctioned off. Also, old ballet shoes can make for a unique decoration.
They Never Have Ribbons Sewn-on When First Bought
Pretty ballerina flat shoes don’t just come ready-made. Although most have elastics over the top of the foot in order to secure the foot, they don’t come with ribbons. Most dancers have to sew ribbons by hand. On one hand, this allows them to customize precisely where the ribbon will fall, but on the other, the amount of time professional dancers spend on sewing ribbons can be too much.
Ballerinas Customize Their Pointe Shoes
Each time a ballet dancer gets a new pair of pointe ballerina shoes she can’t just put them and dance. Each ballerina has her own routine to prepare their new pair of shoes so that they can fit her feet (male dancers are usually too heavy to stand on pointe). This process can be complex, time-consuming and rather violent. There’s the pounding of the box (the part where the toes go) to soften it as it can be pretty hard, poping the shank that stiffens the sole so that the dancer is able to bend her foot easily, stepping on them and even slamming them against the wall. All this is done so that they become softer and don’t make noises that can distract. So much effort, just to be used for one show and then thrown away.
They Can Be Worn to a Jazz Class
Ballet shoes are quite similar to jazz shoes, except the latter have a small heel on the back. This is why, generally speaking, ballet shoes can be worn for jazz classes. However, some jazz teachers may not permit this, so it’s best to check with the school teacher. The studio might have a strict code when it comes to the shoes or it may be more relaxed. On the other hand, some movements and positions can be hindered by the heel like sur le coups de pied position or batterie work, in which case ballet shoes would work better.