Updated: Jun 27, 2021
By: Dance Parent 101
If you haven’t danced before or have never had other children in lessons, buying your child their first pair of ballet shoes might seem a little daunting especially with the amount of choice there is out there. This complete guide will help both the new and experienced dance parent measure, fit and buy ballet shoes for their toddler or kid.
To buy ballet shoes for a toddler or kid you need to know which material to buy, which color you need, how to measure your child’s feet properly, whether you need a full or split sole shoe, if you need ribbons, elastic or both and how to check that they fit properly once they are on.
As well as the above factors, there are four main ways to buy or obtain ballet shoes today that this article will also cover:
Buying from a dancewear store
Buying from your dance school or teacher
Buying from a department store
Buying a pair online
Why do dancers wear Ballet shoes? Why can’t my kid just wear their socks or bare feet?
I am going to start by answering the second question first here. Ballet dancers even little ones do not wear only socks because they have little grip and the dancer will slip and slide and this can cause injury. Ballet dancers also do not dance in bare feet as this will generally create too much friction. The feet can get stuck when they are meant to be gliding and again this can cause injury to the dancer. Ballet shoes provide grip on the soles and a smoother surface around the tips and tops of the toes to provide the gliding movement needed when dancing.
Is There a Difference Between Boys and Girls Ballet Shoes?
Yes and No. Boys’ feet are generally wider than girls, and as they mature will be longer. Boys and men mainly wear black or white ballet shoes and so some ballet shoemakers do especially make shoes to accommodate these differences. But generally, there is not a lot of difference when they are children and especially not so much with the introduction of offering the same sized shoe in different widths.
Therefore this fitting guide is relevant to both boys and girls the main difference being that boys’ shoes will not need ribbons and will need to be bought in either black or white depending on the preference of the studio you attend.
What should my child wear with their Ballet shoes? Socks or tights?
Generally, young boys will wear thin white ankle socks with their ballet shoes under a pair of black leggings or with a pair of shorts. Girls can either wear thin white ankle socks with bare legs and a leotard or will wear ballet tights instead. Usually, your dance studio will advise you on what they want your child to wear.
What Do They Make Ballet Shoes Out Of?
Ballet shoes are made of three main materials leather, canvas, or satin.
Leather is the most popular material for ballet shoes to be made from as it is durable. It is generally thought that as leather is sturdier than satin or canvas that the support it gives young feet helps to strengthen and develop the correct technique. Leather ballet shoes are more expensive than canvas ones, but last longer. Leather shoes are not as easy to clean either but can be painted with flexible leather paint which generally hides any ingrained dirt from studio floors. Leather ballet shoes will also tend to stretch and mold to a dancers foot when warm and worn alot. You might find if worn on the same feet all the time small indents will be seen where the big toe presses against the leather from pointing. Leather ballet shoes are worn with both ribbons or elastics.
Canvas ballet shoes are made from a woven material and are not as durable as leather and tend to get holes around the toes more easily. They are however easier to clean and can be put in the washing machine on a gentle wash or hand washed. They are less expensive initially but as you might have to buy several pairs the cost may be similar to owning one pair of leather shoes. As an advanced dancer in full-time training, I loved my comfortable canvas ballet shoes as they were much more malleable and generally made my feet look better. Canvas ballet shoes are generally worn with elastics and not ribbons. Canvas ballet shoes can be bought in various colors or can be dyed if need to match the color of a costume.
Satin tends to get dirty very quickly and are generally worn for photos or performances because they look pretty and shiny. It is also more common for satin to be used in demi-pointe and pointe shoes rather than flat ballet shoes. Satin shoes can be worn with elastics but look nicer with ribbons and can be bought in various colors. Some people use permanent markers to change the color of satin shoes if needed although you have to be careful that the ink does not run onto your tights when wearing them.
How Will I know Which Size Ballet Shoe to Buy For My Child or Toddler?
You will need to measure your child’s foot to work out which size ballet shoe to buy for them. You can do this at home by measuring the length of their foot and the width at the widest point.
You should make sure your child is standing and keep an eye on their toes, as toddlers and younger children tend to curl their toes under which will give you an incorrect measurement.
There are several fun ways you can try to measure your child’s feet.
FOOT PRINT METHOD What toddler or kid doesn’t love painting? Get a paintbrush and cover the sole of their feet in paint and then let them walk along a piece of paper you have rolled out. Take this away to dry and put down more for them to just have fun with. When the original is dry, take a ruler and measure both the length of their foot and the width at the widest part of the foot. This will give you your measurements that you can match up with the shoe suppliers sizing guide.
TRACING METHOD Trace around your child's foot on some paper. You might want to stick it to a stable surface so it doesn’t move – the paper that is, not your child. Measure the outline as explained above. You might want to trace around their feet a couple more times and give your child some pencils to color them in or let them trace around your feet too, to make it an enjoyable experience and not another task you need to get done.
JUST MEASURE THEIR FOOT Take a tape measure and measure the length of their foot and the width. This is easier said then done and can lead to a faulty measurement being recorded if they twitch and wiggle too much because they are ticklish, which is why I have given you other suggestions.
If you have any of your own tricks, let us know about them in the comments below and I’ll add the best to the list here with your name!
How to know you have the right fit?
The following are a few things to look at when the ballet shoes are on your child’s feet. Begin by making sure their foot is flat on the floor:
Are their toes flat and not scrunched up?
Can they wiggle their toes comfortably?
Is the width of the shoe ok? Are your child’s toes flat on the floor as if they were barefoot? The width is wrong for your child if the shoe is too tight across the toes causing them to be squashed together uncomfortably?
Opposingly can you fit a finger in between the shoe and one or both sides of your child’s foot easily? This will mean the shoe is too wide.
Do the quarters fit nicely around the heel with the drawstring pulled at a comfortable tension for your child?
You should not have to pull the drawstring so tight that the shoe puckers when on or leaves marks on your child’s foot. If it is too tight it can literally cut into the back of your child’s Achilles tendon and can really hurt your child.
There should not be a large gap in between the back seam and your child’s heel or Achilles tendon.
When pulling on the drawstring to tighten the ballet shoes, the shoes should not look all puckered up like a shower cap or those shoe protectors doctors and nurses wear. They should be nice and smooth. Nor should you be able to see the outline of each of your child’s toes, or a mark left by the drawstring and binding. This means the shoe is too small and tight.
Most dance shoes can come in all different widths, including wide, narrow, or medium. However, not all manufacturers will do this, so you need to watch for ones that do if the width is an issue.