There are two main types of ballet shoes: soft ballet shoes and pointe shoes. Within each, there are many varieties of ballet shoes that can serve a variety of different needs depending on your level of expertise and comfort. Below, we’ll take you through the main types and explain a little more about each.

Soft Ballet Shoes

Soft ballet shoes are the first pair of ballet shoes every ballet dancer owns and will own for the rest of her dancing career. These ballet shoes are often made of leather, but can also be made of canvas or satin. Soft ballet shoes are made to conform to your foot as you practice technique in the classroom and build your strength. They are very comfortable when fitted properly and can last quite a while. Soft ballet shoes can have a full leather sole (more for toddlers, children and beginners), or what’s called a “split sole” where the leather sole for the ball of your foot and your heel are separated. This can be very comfortable for stronger dancers to point more easily through the shoe.

Pointe Shoes

Pointe shoes, also sometimes called toe shoes, are made of harder materials to help support the foot. The sole of the foot is called the shank and is the portion that helps support the arch. The top part of the shoe, called the box, is also made of hardened materials to support the toes and ball of the foot. Proper fitting of pointe shoes is very important to a dancer’s performance, and there is often a ritual of “breaking in” the shoe that helps form the shoe to a dancers’s foot faster. The shank is very stiff and needs to be broken in the right area to maintain arch support. In the box area, a dancer needs to create a break where her toes bend so that she can properly rise to a releve through the foot and maintain a beautiful tendu along the floor.

Throughout a ballerina’s career, she will always use soft ballet shoes. More advanced dancers will use point shoes, but will always have a pair of soft ballet shoes for strength training classes that do not require pointe shoes.