Written and edited by: Lesley Mealor, BPA Dance Performance
Kids outgrow everything, from clothing to car seats, and dance and ballet shoes are no exception! When taking into consideration growth spurts, general wear and tear, and the soft materials ballet shoes are made of, there does come a time when dance shoes have to be replaced (and it might be sooner than you think!)
Ballet shoes and dance shoes should last anywhere from six months to a year for most children if taken care of properly.
In this guide, you’ll find helpful information about how to get the most life out of your child’s ballet and dance shoes, while not sacrificing fit or function. For more about how to select the best ballet shoes for your dancer, visit our Parents Guide To Choosing The Best Shoes For Ballet Class.
What Are Ballet Shoes Made Of?
Ballet shoes are made of either a soft leather, synthetic leather, or canvas material, elastic, and have a suede or synthetic suede sole.
Because ballet shoes are made of soft and pliable materials, they simply don’t last forever, especially for children.
Ballet shoes are meant to fit like a sock, with very little growing room. This tight fit is important for learning proper technique, but becomes a problem when Little Susie’s feet grow every six months!
However, dancers whose feet have stopped growing are known to hold on to a favorite pair of ballet shoes for years! With some TLC, ballet shoes for older dancers can last a very long time.
How To Take Care of Ballet Shoes
To take care of ballet shoes first, be sure to write your child’s name in the shoes somewhere discreet. Many shoe manufacturers put a small tag inside the shoes for this very purpose.
You can also write their name on the canvas insole. This will ensure your child won’t lose their shoes at the studio, meaning you won’t have to replace them.
Next, keep ballet shoes smelling fresh by leaving them outside your child’s dance bag after every class.
Feet sweat, and sweat gets absorbed into the shoes, leading to a pretty stinky situation!
You can also sprinkle baby powder or foot powder into the shoes between classes for added freshness.
Find a few great suggestions of products to keep dance shoes smelling great here!
Finally, if your child’s shoes have become very dirty through general wear or an accidental stain, there are specific ways you can clean ballet shoes to gain a little more life from them.
Can You Wash Canvas Ballet Shoes?
Canvas ballet shoes can be washed by hand or in the gentle cycle in the washing machine. Always use cold water, mild or baby detergent, and place the shoes in a lingerie bag to prevent snagging.
Do not place canvas ballet shoes in the dryer. Instead, lay them flat on a towel to air dry. If you wish, you can stuff the toes with newspaper to maintain the proper shape while they dry.
Can You Wash Leather Ballet Shoes?
Washing leather ballet shoes is not recommended because of the fragility of the materials. To freshen up leather ballet shoes, use a damp cloth or paper towel to spot clean any dirty areas.
If you find that you need more cleaning power, you can use a drop of fabric detergent. Be sure to wipe off any residue when you finish so the leather doesn’t dry out.
Leather and synthetic leather ballet shoes should not be put in the dryer. The materials will be destroyed by the heat.
How Do You Know When To Replace Ballet Shoes?
There are a few clear signs to look out for when considering replacing your child’s ballet shoes.
First, is your child complaining that their shoes are too tight? If so, it might be time to replace their ballet shoes.
Ballet shoes should allow all five toes to lay flat on the floor. If your child’s shoes are too tight, you will notice their toes crunching or curling in the shoes.
Additionally, ballet shoes should contain the whole foot. If the top of your child’s foot is popping out of the top of the shoe, it may be too small and time for a replacement.
Second, you should look for holes in the toes or holes near the sole of the shoe. Shoes that are too short will develop holes from the material being stretched beyond its capacity.
Finally, if your child’s ballet shoes are dirty, smelly, and simply cannot be cleaned easily, it is time to consider replacing them.
How Can I Get A Little More Life Out of Ballet Shoes?
If you are finding it expensive and time-consuming to replace your child’s ballet shoes often, there are a couple of hacks you can use to squeeze just a little more life out of them.
Buy A Half Size Bigger
First, when initially purchasing the shoes, request a half a size above what your child currently wears. Most reputable dancewear stores will allow a bit of growing room when fitting children.
However, there is a limit – Little Susie can’t safely come to class in shoes that are two sizes too big!
Wear Thin Socks To The Fitting
Second, have your dancer be fit for ballet shoes by wearing thin socks instead of tights.
Many dance schools will allow young dancers to wear socks with or in place of their ballet tights, and the socks will take up a bit of room in the shoe.
Then, when their feet grow, they can remove the socks and have a few more months in the shoes wearing only tights.
Loosen The Elastic Drawstring
Next, if your child is complaining that their ballet shoes are too tight, take a look at the elastic drawstring and the elastic band that lays across the foot.
Often, the drawstring can be loosened, creating more space in the shoe. If the elastic band is too tight, cut it off and sew on a new, looser one!
Directions for sewing elastic can be found here!
Fix Holes with Tape or Stitching
Does your child need to wear their ballet shoes for just a few more lessons but they have holes in them?
Consider darning the hole if the shoes are made from canvas or even using athletic or sports tape (see on amazon.com) in the neutral pink, white or black color either on the inside or outside to patch the hole as a short-term solution.
Gaff or electrical tape is not as flexible as athletic tape, but can work and be painted over if needed for a last-minute fix.
Stretch Canvas Ballet Shoes
Finally, if you are desperate for just one more wear, you can stretch canvas ballet shoes. Keep in mind that if they are already falling apart, this technique might destroy them further, but use your best judgement.
One way to stretch canvas ballet shoes is by wetting the toes with rubbing alcohol and wearing them around the house with socks until they are dry.
Another way to stretch canvas ballet shoes is by wetting the toes with rubbing alcohol and stuffing them with newspaper or balled-up socks. The gentle pressure will stretch the canvas.
As you can see, ballet and dance shoes will last a fairly long time with the proper care. But, nothing can prevent kids from growing! So when it’s time to buy new shoes, and you’ve tried all our life-lengthening measures, visit your local dancewear store and try on a fresh new pair (with socks on!)