Finding the Best Fit for Your Ballet Soft Shoes

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Fitting the right ballet shoe is somewhat like finding a brassière or the right shade of makeup: it’s almost impossible to buy the right one unless you’ve tried plenty of them on. Even if you have a pair of shoes that you’ve worn before and that seem to work well, it’s always a good idea to try on multiple pairs before deciding on one. There are always new and enhanced styles that might suit you better than your last pair, and you might just find a new favorite.

If you’ve never been professionally fitted before, trying to find your own pair can be overwhelming. Dancewear sizes are typically different from street clothing or shoe sizes and the numbers vary between companies and styles. Because all of this can make you crazy with confusion, here are some tips for making sense of the process:

1. If you’re enrolled in a formal class, check with your instructor before you buy anything. They or the studio might have rules or preferences about footwear and you’ll want to know what they find acceptable. They might even be able to recommend a specific brand or style that they think will fit your individual needs.

2. Consider the many, many style options. Soft shoes vary in more than just size – most companies make shoes in several colors, materials and sole types, and many of them incorporate fancy features like elastic or mesh arches. Here are the basic factors you should use to get started:

Material

Typically, soft shoes come in either leather or canvas. Both are perfectly suitable for regular practice, but they each offer different benefits.

Leather shoes provide a good grip on wood floors, but they might be too sticky for a vinyl Marley-style floor. This material will stretch and shape to your foot as you dance in them, so keep this in mind when you’re sizing them. Leather shoes also tend to last longer than canvas.

Canvas shoes are usually better suited for vinyl floors as they may slip too easily on wood. There isn’t much give in the fabric, so make sure the fit is perfect before you buy them. Canvas shoes are often shaped with more pleats than leather, which generally makes them able to accommodate wider feet. One great thing about this material is that there’s practically no break-in period, so how they feel when you first buy them is how they’ll feel until they wear out. Canvas can also be easily cleaned in the washer and set out to air dry – just be sure to avoid the dryer.

Color

The most common soft shoe colors are black and pink. There are also endless shades of pinks ranging from tan to bubblegum pink; the particular pink you choose typically depends on your preference, but you may want to check with your instructor to see if they have a particular preference (although generally, adult studios tend to be more relaxed about it).

Sole

Two basic sole types are full-sole and split-sole. For young beginners, teachers usually recommend a full-sole shoe because it offers more resistance and helps build arch strength early on. However, split-sole shoes are most commonly used by teens and adults as they tend to look nicer on the foot.

3. The sizing chart is a good guide for trying on your first pair, but don’t trust it blindly. Try to avoid buying shoes online unless you are very familiar with the company’s sizing or don’t mind returning a few pairs. Like any other shoe, ballet shoe sizes vary from company to company and many of them are measured in inches or European sizing charts. So if you’ve never been fitted before, it’s best to go to a dance supply store and try on the shoes in person. Most brands run 1-3 sizes smaller than street shoes, so use the company’s sizing chart to tell you where to start.

4. Once you’ve found your size, stand in them and try out a few pliés and relevés. Your toes should have enough room to spread out flat on the floor. If your toes feel crunched now, imagine how they’ll feel after a two-hour class! Point and flex your foot to make sure the heel doesn’t slip off or cut into your skin. A great measure for shoe length is to pinch the fabric at the back of the heel where the seam is. The ideal fit will allow you to pinch a thumb-width section together when your foot is pointed, yet have no gathered fabric when your foot is flexed.

5. Pull the drawstring just tight enough so that there are no gaps at your arches. You’ll probably want to tie a bow instead of a knot in case you need to adjust later. Remember to tuck the ends inside the shoe when you wear them for class.

Image via Flickr User Quinn Dombrowski

The Dancewear Project’s Awesome Striped Ombre Legwarmers

Ever since I ended up with stress fractures in both of my legs (and given that I have pretty bad ankles, too) — I’ve been addicted to wearing legwarmers when in the studio. Even if it’s a humid 95 degrees out in Philadelphia. I’m always on the hunt for pretty legwarmers (it’s so easy to get sick of your standard black) and jumped at the chance to try the The Dancewear Project’s Striped Ombre Legwarmers:

i-qGJXKhx-L_grandeA photo from The Dancewear Project’s website

I first came across The Dancewear Project because they launched a leotard line with Ballet Zaida (which if you’re not following on Instagram you should be). So I reached out to Melissa at The Dancewear Project and she kindly offered to let me try a pair for free! And I fell in love with them.

Since I have fairly big thighs, sometimes finding legwarmers that can go up to them and not restrict them can be tough — that’s why I was so happy to pull out Dancewear Project’s legwarmers and find out that they were super stretchy and super cute (I seriously love all things striped — and that’s the only downside to these legwarmers to me — is making sure I’m not clashing with a striped top when I pack my dance bag!)

The legwarmers are warm, but breathable, and look cute, too. I love them for my classes that I take in slippers — they can be pulled down over your ankles to keep them warm at barre but then quickly pushed up for across the floor work. I think I’ve only worn them once for pointe class, but I liked them for that class as well since they could be both pulled down over my ankles and rolled up quickly. They wash nicely, too, and will definitely remain something I keep wearing year-round, and I’ll probably pick up a second pair, too (the pink ones are adorable, too). Here’s some of my photos from after class (I’ll add some more once I get the chance to take pointe shoe photos, too):

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I can’t wait to try out the rest of The Dancewear Project’s line, too! If you’d like to, you can use the code adultballerina at checkout for 20 percent off!

Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas for Ballerinas and Runners

If you’re anything like me, you’re totally guilty of waiting until the last minute to buy gifts (in fact, I’m even in the process of working on some crafts as gifts right now.  Here’s some recommendations of my favorite things lately:

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FlipBelt

I love love my flipbelt. I mostly use it for running, but if I take a class outside of my normal studio (where I normally feel comfortable leave my belongings in my bag), I'd wear it to keep my phone, ID and cards on me. It's pretty awesome. Read my review of it here Use code Sweat10 for 10% off or email me at aballerinaproject at gmail dot com for a 30% code.

Fleecys Keeping Dancers Warm

I just found out about these and bought myself a pair--but I'm already pretty sure HQ is buying me a second pair to wear to ballet class in the winter.

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Zensah Socks and sleves

I love my compression socks, sleeves (and leggings too!). Zensah sleeves are my favorite, and they are by far the most comfy.

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Adult Booties - Style Number: IM009

Although these are sold out a lot of the time, they're worth the wait. I have a large pair in red, and I'm waiting on a second (smaller) pair on backorder in purple.

Disclaimer: I’ve received a Flipbelt for free and have received Zensah socks for free in the past as well, but my opinions are my own.

Why I love Compression Gear: Zensah Socks and Sleeves

I love my compression socks, sleeves (and leggings too!). I have about six different pairs of compression socks and three different pairs of compression sleeves.  By far, the best pair of socks I have are the Zensah compression socks that I won in a #runchat tweet chat a few months ago. I recently bought a pair of Zensah sleeves that I love, too.

Why does compression gear work? Zensah’s got a great blog post on it, but here are some main points:

  •  Compression improves circulation and oxygenated blood flow to improve performance and enhance recovery.
  • Improved circulation reduces the buildup of lactic acid
  • Enhance athlete’s warm-up by increasing the temperature of the skin and the muscle
  • Provide an extra support to stabilize the muscle tissue, reducing inflammation and micro trauma

I mostly wear socks for recovery, but I’ll use my Zensah sleeves during ballet and sometimes while running.

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Chilling in my Zensah socks in my messy room

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How Does an Adult Beginner Break in Pointe Shoes Safely?

bend that shankWhen I started pointe class last fall, I had no idea how to break in pointe shoes. Of course I heard of people bending the shank, banging the shoe on the floor, hammering or standing on the box and even slamming a shoe in a door frame. Remember the montage of dancers breaking in their shoes in the movie Center Stage? Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I knew that trying one of these methods was a surefire way to break (not break in) my pointe shoes.

On the first day of class, my instructor had us put on the pointe shoes and walk, then run around in demi-pointe. Although I felt like I was shuffling around in wooden shoes, I knew this was the first step to actually breaking in the shoes … I just couldn’t imagine my feet being strong enough and lasting long enough to break them in successfully. I felt more discouraged when I releved – my feet looked like tiny stilts.

A bit depressed and embarrassed, I lamented about my first class to my neighbor, a ballet dancer who performed the Sugarplum Fairy role in a professional DC-area Nutcracker production just 8 months after having twins. “Oh … maybe I’m in over my head. Maybe I’m not ready. Maybe I shouldn’t even be trying pointe,” I sighed.

She scoffed, “That was your first day! And you had on new pointe shoes! What do you expect?” She paused and thought for a moment. “Try this: wear your pointe shoes in the house, but put socks on over the shoes. Walk around the house in demi-pointe while doing your normal tasks, like the laundry, dishes, etc. with socks over the shoes.”

I wasn’t sure if this was going to work but tried it anyway. At least this method seemed safe (for me and my shoes) and built onto what I did in class. After a few of 20-minute sessions of walking around in pointe shoes in demi-pointe (that is all my feet could stand at the time), I felt like the shoes were not so stiff … and I felt less discouraged. Of course breaking in the shoes didn’t happen overnight and more exercises in class were needed to break them in, but I felt encouraged by this low-maintenance, convenient method that worked from my own body heat and foot strength. I liked this method because:

  •  the socks kept in body heat to warm up the shoes, which of course softened the shank and box, allowing them to mold to shape of my foot;
  • I wasn’t breaking or bending the shank in random places;
  • the socks protected the shoes from being scratched up;
  • I didn’t worry about slipping on the tile floors with the socks’ traction;
  • I was strengthening my feet at same time and;
  • this method took no time out of my day since I could incorporate it in my everyday activities – especially important for adult dancers!

By my second class, the shoes felt much more comfortable and I could bend and flex my foot to roll up and releve. I can’t say that walking around demi-pointe in pointe shoes covered with socks broke in my pointe shoes completely, but it was an encouraging start.