I have spent WAY more money on dance shoes than I care to admit. My oldest child has sensory issues that make the comfort of shoes very important and my youngest has wide feet which has made finding the right fit difficult. We've tried many brands and styles over the past three years and I want to share with you what I have discovered as well as answer some FAQ about dance shoes in general.
1. What is the purpose of canvas vs. leather jazz/ballet shoes? Which one should I buy for myself/my child?
In general, leather shoes are for beginners and canvas shoes are for intermediate and advanced students. The reason for this is that the leather sticks to the dance floor more than canvas does. Leather is still safe and won't cause torque, but it encourages beginner dancers to more through their turns slower and thus focus on the micro movements and technique rather than just flying through them. This is particularly evident in the jazz shoes. If you look at the bottoms of a leather and canvas jazz shoe next to each other, you'll see that the leather shoe has rubber sole and the canvas one has a suede sole. The rubber will grip the floor whereas the suede will not.
Some other factors to consider when choosing between leather and canvas shoes are durability and comfort. Leather shoes will always be more durable. If you have multiple kids interested in dance, you will be able to pass down those ballet and jazz shoes to the younger dancers. However, canvas shoes are more comfortable and, if you or your child has wide feet, a must buy. My youngest has wide feet and put up with the leather shoes for the first three years of dance (ages 3-6), but is MUCH happier with the canvas shoes that "don't squeeze her toes." She loved dance enough to put up with some discomfort for a while, but if you have to choose between your kid hating dance because their feet hurt or buying them canvas shoes, just buy them the canvas shoes from the on-start.
So, as a rule of thumb, buy leather for beginners and canvas for those who have mastered the basics. The caveat being to skip the leather shoes with kids who have sensory issues (or low tolerance for discomfort) and to buy canvas shoes to accommodate wide feet.
2. What is the difference between full-sole and split sole ballet shoes?
Like with leather vs. canvas, full-sole shoes are for beginners and split-sole shoes are for intermediate and advanced students. The full-soles force the novice dancer to work their foot muscles more because they have to apply more force to flex and point their feet. This is good thing as strong feet are essential to dance. The split-soles are more comfortable. By allowing the canvas (or leather) material to grip the arch of the foot, the dancer can point and arch more easily. However, the main purpose of split sole ballet shoes is to allow the dancer to show off the beautiful lines of their feet.
3. Where do I buy dance shoes?
To be honest, a lot of our dance shoes to begin with came from second hand shops like Once Upon a Child. Because kids grow out of shoes so quick, dance shoes tend to stay in good shape for a long time and are able to be re-sold. I'm glad I raided the used bins because it gave me a chance for us to try out a lot of different styles and brands to figure out what works for our family. This was particularly beneficial with the jazz shoes because at $40/pair brand new, that adds up quick.
If you have a dance boutique around and a child that is about to begin his/her first season at dance, I would suggest budgeting about $100 and taking them there to try on shoes and pick out their first dance outfit. Kids get very excited about dance when they see movies like Leap, play Fortnite, or watch the Nutcracker; but the truth is that dance is difficult, fun but difficult. One of my favorite quotes is "It takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless." I do everything I can to amp up the excitement and fun of dance for my kids and picking out that first dance outfit is super special for them.
Stores like Target sell ballet shoes, but I wouldn't suggest buying from them. The difference in price isn't that great, but the quality of the shoe is.
Another option is to buy online. I buy from DiscountDance because I have trouble finding wide shoes in store and already know what shoes my kids like. I will tell you that their return policy is not the greatest so really be sure you won't the item before you purchase or else you'll be paying $7 in return shipping on something that cost you $20-$30 to begin with. This is another reason to buy your first set of shoes from a dance boutique, so you can figure out what brand you like and size you are.
Dance shoe sizes are not the same as street shoes and the fit varies greatly from one brand to another. If you do decide to buy online, read the reviews and take the size recommendations to heart. My general rule is that if the dance company says to buy 1 size larger than what your street size is, then buy 1.5 - 2 sizes larger. I know they are supposed to fit like a glove, but young kids have little tolerance for having their toes squeezed and they will grow into them and gradually get used to the feel of having shoes tight on their feet. Buy the first pair of shoes a little bigger, then buy more form fitting shoes from that point forward. The dance boutique may try to push having snug shoes, but you should insist there be a little more room the first time around. This is cynical of me to say, but keep in mind that it is is the boutique's best interest to sell you snug shoes... you'll be back sooner to spend more money.
4. What is the best brand of shoe?
So, this section is completely my opinion, but I will say that we have tried a lot of brands and this is what I've found.
The best value and comfort for ballet and jazz shoes is So Danca. They have been a God-send for my oldest in particular as they sell shoes for wide feet. They sell widths from A all the way up to EE on some shoes and the quality, especially at the price point, is fabulous!
Most of us non dancing folk has heard of Bloch or Capezio because they've been around for so long. I'm sorry to say that, Capezio has gone down hill. Our local boutique clearanced out all of their items and does not stock Capezio anymore for the mere fact that they are not producing quality products like they used to. Bloch is still an okay brand, and is the best for tap shoes. However, So Danca wins on quality at the same price point for ballet and jazz.
Grishko is a brand that we have not tried yet, but my ballet teacher says that she loves them and it is what she uses. There aren't child sizes for this brand aren't sold on discountdance, so you'll either want to ask your local boutique about them or go to their website directly. Once you find a brand you love, you can always buy directly from them on their website and you will find more option that way as well.
Here are the shoes we use or have used for Ballet and Jazz:
I hope this blog helped take some of the mystery out of buying dance shoes. Feel free to send me any questions or comments you might have as well.