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A Short & Interesting History on How the ballet shoe was invented!

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Written & Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

Ballet was originally danced in heels by men in the 16th and 17th-century courts of Italy and France – So how is it today that a woman instigated the move towards a flat ballet shoe? Read on to find out some interesting facts on how the Ballet shoe came to be as we know them today!

Ballet Shoes in the 16th & 17th Century

Ballet was originally imported to France around the 16th and 17th centuries from the royal courts of Italy where men and some women danced in heeled shoes.

Court shoes were made with leather soles, and pieces of leather cut, glued, and stacked together to make the heel which was then either covered with leather or quality silk.

Ballet Shoes in the 18th Century

Around the mid 18th century it is said that the dancer that populated the fashion of eliminating the leather heel from their shoe was Marie Camargo one of the first-ever prima ballerinas.

Marie Carmago (1710-1770) Dancing in Heeled shoes
Marie Carmago (1710-1770) Dancing in flat ballet slippers

She needed the freedom flat shoes provided to perform with speed and agility, the jumps and fast footwork she was famous for.

Ballet Shoes in the 19th Century

During the 19th century, Marie Taglioni who famously danced en pointe in La Sylphide would wear satin slippers with a leather sole.

Marie Taglioni’s Ballet Slippers – Image from Pinterest

But it wasn’t until the time of Russian Ballerina Ana Pavlova that flat ballet shoes were turned into pointe shoes as we know them today. Pavlova added inserts to her slippers to create a box shape and more support when dancing en pointe.

Ballet Shoes in a museum including a pair of Anna Pavlova’s image from Pinterest
Anna Pavlova in Swan Lake

But this article is all about flat ballet shoes, so lets get back to them….

Ballet Shoes in the 20th Century

During the 20th century, ballet shoes underwent another innovation with the creation of the split sole. A split sole is the name given to shoes that have a leather pad on the heel and ball of the foot, and are joined by the more malleable material of the shoe in the middle allowing the dancer even more freedom and the ability to fully show off the arch of their foot.

Today companies such as Bloch, Capezio, Grishko, Freed of London, Sansha, So Danca and new kid on the block MDM still create ballet shoes based on the original style of ballet slippers worn during the 19th century only with the latest technology, design and materials to enhance the performance of the dancer.

Some brands add neoprene inserts in their shoes and other materials to enhance their support of the foot, others cut their materials in different ways and mix and match them to provide comfort and the most snug fit available.

Some manufacturers have also started to sell Vegan shoes for those who do not want leather used in their shoes!

Another fantastic development is the awareness by many brands that the color of ballet shoes is not representative of the various colors that all our skins come in and so many have started created ballet shoes in a range of skin shades rather than only providing them in tones of pink!