They say that dancing is like dreaming with your feet. The movements you make with your upper body are, of course, also important but the cornerstone of dance comes down to your footwork. And this is why what you wear on your feet is so important when you dance. Different types of dance have different types of footwork associated with them and, over the years, dance shoes have been developed and refined to fully support each dance style’s foot movements. With that in mind, we’ve put together a handy guide to the dance shoes you will need for different dance styles (for both women and girls).
Quick jump to:
- Ballet dance shoes
- Jazz dance shoes
- Contemporary, modern, lyrical dance shoes
- Tap dance shoes
- Ballroom dance shoes
Related articles: 17 Best Ballet Pointe Shoes for Beginners | Men’s Dance Shoes: Ballet, Jazz, Ballroom & Tap | Best Dance Sneakers for Men, Women & Kids
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Ballet dance shoes
Ballet shoes are arguably the most iconic of all dance shoes. They are both romantic and a show of strength, and they have an interesting history. There are generally two types of ballet shoes: ballet slippers and pointe shoes, with ballet slippers being designed earlier. When ballet first started being danced in the French courts in the 1600s, the dancers originally wore the heeled shoes that were in fashion at the time. In the 1730s a famous ballet dancer, Marie Carmargo, removed the heels from her shoes and this eventually became the ballet slipper that we know today.
Ballet slippers are designed to completely mold to your feet. They are usually made from canvas, satin, or leather for their upper and they usually have a suede leather sole that doesn’t reach the edges of the slipper. Suede is the perfect material for contact with the floor because it has just enough grip to prevent you from slipping but still allows you to glide. A relatively recent development has been the split sole where the suede is only at the ball of the foot and the heel, which allows for greater foot flexibility.
Ballet slippers usually have:
- a drawstring near the toes that can be tightened
- elastics that come over the arch of the foot (these either come pre-attached or you can attach them yourself for a better fit)
- a ribbon that can be tied around the ankle and legs (usually only worn for examinations and performances)
The development of pointe shoes started in the late 1700s. Dancers were being rigged up to apparatus to make it appear as though they were flying, with the characteristic pointed toes. A little later, an Italian dancer, Amalia Brugnoli, showcased pointe shoes for the first time. These shoes allowed dancers to appear to fly without the aid of wires but they were quite different from the pointe shoes of today. In the centuries since pointe shoes have been refined and developed to give dancers more and more support and stability when dancing en pointe. A true feat of engineering!
A pointe shoe looks very much like a ballet slipper but has some key differences that allow the dancer to dance on their toes, including:
- a box that covers the dancer’s toes, which is made of compacted materials and glue
- a platform, which is the flat part at the end of the shoe on which the dancers can balance on their toes
- a vamp that contains both the platform and the box
- a shank. This is a very stiff sole that gives the dancer’s foot the support that it needs when en pointe
Leather or canvas?
Whether to choose canvas or leather ballet shoes is always up for debate. Leather shoes are generally more durable than canvas shoes and they provide more grip. Whereas canvas shoes are lighter weight and are usually machine washable (if in a mesh bag on a low heat wash). The materials also fit in a different way. With leather ballet shoes, you can expect them to conform to your feet over time, so it is important to make sure that the fit is perfect, and you can expect them to eventually fit like a glove. Canvas, however, doesn’t change its shape over time so won’t conform to your feet. This is a good choice if you want them to stay fitted exactly as they are when you first try them on.
Fitting ballet shoes
Dance shoes fit very differently from street shoes and never is this more the case than with ballet shoes. The shoes should be snug, with no space between the toes and the outer material. They should be like a second skin for the feet. At the same time, however, they shouldn’t be so tight that the toes can’t lay out straight or wiggle.
For pointe shoes, there are other considerations to think of as well. Mainly the length and shape of the vamp and the box size/shape. These aren’t just aesthetic considerations. Everybody’s foot anatomy is different and pointe shoes are a technical piece of equipment that needs to take account of that in order to support the feet correctly.
The vamp shape can generally be a V or a U. A V shape is often preferred by dancers with high arches and it gives a classical look. A U shape usually has a drawstring included to help modify the fit and it gives a more contemporary look. The vamp length is usually small, medium, or large. Dancers with longer toes will need a longer vamp. The toes should be covered up to the metatarsals. A shorter vamp is often preferred by dancers who are just learning to dance en pointe because it allows for greater foot flexibility which makes it easier to get up on your toes. Dancers with high arches or very weak or flexible feet usually prefer a longer vamp for more support.
The choice of box style is usually based on the shape of the toes and the width of the foot. Boxes can be tapered, slightly tapered, or square. A tapered box is suitable for narrow feet or feet that have “Egyptian” toes. These are toes where each of the toes is smaller than the one next to it starting with the big toe. A slightly tapered box is suitable for average-width feet or for people with “peasant” or tapered “Greek” toes. These are toes where some of the toes are the same length as others but not all of them. So, for example, the big toe and the toe next to it are the same lengths, but the rest of the toes taper. A square box is suitable for wider feet or for people with “square” toes, which is when all of the toes are the same length.
Best ballet shoes for women
Capezio Canvas Juliet Ballet Shoes
These ballet shoes from Capezio are made from canvas that has a four-way stretch. They have a split-suede sole with a suede patch at the front and the back of the shoe so you can expect your foot flexibility to be excellent. The lining is made from polyester and cotton so is breathable. There is a drawstring at the front for the shoe to be tightened and they have a diamond gusset in the center for extra support as well as hammered pleats to ensure that the contact with the floor is smooth.
While the photo included of the shoes show the elastics only attached at one end, in fact, they come pre-attached, which is a good option if you want to be able to wear the shoes straight out of the box. As far as fit, the sizes are displayed to be in line with your street shoe size so you should try that first.
Bloch Women’s Prolite II Leather Ballet Shoes
These Bloch ballet shoes are made of 100% AAA grade leather so are soft and durable. They have a split sole with tear-dropped suede pads at the front and back of the foot. They have a tapered toe and a breathable cotton lining. The elastics on these ballet shoes are also pre-sewn so you can wear them straight out of the box.
They have a suede insock that will help to keep your feet comfortable when you dance. In terms of sizing, you should refer to the Bloch sizing chart to find the equivalent of your street size.
Best ballet shoes for girls
Bloch Bunnyhop Ballet Shoes
These ballet shoes are designed for new ballet students. They have a full leather outsole and insole which provides a little extra resistance when flexing and pointing the foot to help with strengthening. There is an elastic attached over the instep to help them fit well and they have a soft swan down lining.
Inside is a pretty bunny design in pink and purple with space to write your child’s name (which always comes in handy!).
Stelle Girls Practice Ballet Shoes
These ballet shoes from Stelle have a breathable PU upper and a split suede leather sole which is anti-skid. There is some padding in the insole to help with comfort and foot protection. They have pre-attached elastics at the instep in a criss-cross design to create a secure fit. They come in ballet pink (with either a drawstring or no drawstring, true pink, or black.
Best ballet pointe shoes for women and girls
Ijonde Ballet Pointe Shoes
These shoes come in both adult and child sizes. They have a synthetic sole and a satin vamp which is mid-average in length, as well as a wide box. This makes them suitable for people with wider feet and mid-length toes. The medium vamp will allow for enough foot flexibility to make getting on your toes slightly easier but will also provide some support for flexible feet.
The ribbons are pre-attached and are 24 inches long, which should be enough length for most people to be able to tie them. They also come with a mesh bag carry case and silicone inserts to help protect your toes. This makes them a nice gift for someone who is just starting out en pointe.
WendyWu Professional Ballet Pointe Shoes
These pointe shoes are made from satin with a full leather sole, which will make gliding across the floor much easier. They come with the ribbons pre-attached and with silicone toe protectors and a drawstring carry bag to keep the shoes protected when they are being transported. They have a tapered box, making them suitable for narrower feet or for people with “Egyptian” toes. And they have a U-shaped throat on the vamp and a drawstring to help make the fit secure.
For even more ballet pointe shoes options check out this article: 17 Best Ballet Pointe Shoes for Beginners
Jazz dance shoes
Despite the name, jazz shoes aren’t just worn for jazz dancing. They are worn for all sorts of dance styles, including acro-dance, swing, street dance, rock and roll, and more. In many ways, they are similar to ballet shoes in that they should completely conform to your feet. Their overall design and their soles tend to differ from ballet slippers, however.
Jazz shoes usually have a rubber heel or a complete rubber sole. This is because traction is important for these types of dance styles that include a lot of leaping and twisting. Some jazz shoes have a suede pad at the ball of the foot with a rubber heel to help with turning. As with ballet shoes, jazz shoes can be either full or split sole. A split sole allows for greater foot flexibility and can give a more pleasing aesthetic, whereas a full sole gives the foot more support.
There is a wide range of jazz shoe styles to choose from. Some of them are lace-up whereas others are slip-on with a neoprene patch at the sides to help with getting them on or off. You can also get jazz boots, which are usually used for costumes in performances, and even jazz sneakers which give a sneaker aesthetic but with a jazz shoe sole.
In terms of fit, jazz shoes should fit a lot more snugly than street shoes. There should be no space between the toes and the edge of the shoe. Any movement of your foot around the shoe can lead to abrasions or injury. But they also shouldn’t be so tight that the toes are squashed or unable to move at all.
Best jazz shoes for women
Capezio Women’s E-series Jazz Slip-on
These jazz shoes from Capezio are in a slip-on design with low sides and a split sole. They have a soft leather upper with neoprene arches to make them easy to take on and off and to prevent bunching when pointing and flexing the foot. They also have a moisture-absorbent cotton lining and a padded insole. They have a soft Achilles top line to prevent rubbing against your Achilles tendon.
The sole is split with an EVA rubber sole patch and non-slip heel counter, which make them perfect for high-impact and high-energy dancing. They come in black or tan and you should try one size up from your normal shoe size.
Bloch Ladies Pulse Leather Jazz Shoes
These Bloch jazz shoes are also slip-on dance shoes but are a slightly different design. They look almost more similar to ballet slippers and they are designed to be extremely low profile, which makes them perfect for competitive jazz competitions. They have a soft leather upper and an arch-hugging neoprene stretch satin arch. This arch has embossed pleats which help to highlight your arch when you are pointing your foot.
They have a split sole with an EVA rubber heel which is very low profile to give you a closer-to-the-floor feeling. The pad at the ball of the foot is suede leather to help with turning and spinning. You should order either your normal street size or half a size up. These will mold to your feet in time so will feel a little tight at first. They come in black or tan.
Sansha Soho Lace-Up Jazz Shoe
These jazz shoes from Sansha are in a lace-up canvas boot design. They come in flesh, red, black, or white and the white can be dyed to any color you want, which is perfect if they are for a performance. They have a split-sole with both the heel and the toe patch made of suede, which makes them perfect for turning or spinning. The heel is hard and 0.5 inches high to help with shock absorption. They have pleat protection around the sole patches to help prevent holes from appearing.
You should order one size up from your normal shoe size. They will be snug at first but will conform to your feet over time.
Best jazz shoes for girls
Capezio E-series Jazz Slip-on (Big Kid/Little Kid)
These are the children’s version of the Capezio E-series jazz shoes. They are split sole with both the forefoot and the heel patch made of EVA rubber for better traction. The upper is made from leather with a neoprene stretch arch insert for greater flexibility and to help with putting on and removing the shoe. The insole is foam-padded and they have an absorbent cotton lining.
You should try your child’s normal street size at first, although they do run small and are designed to mold to their feet over time, so going a half-size up if your child’s feet are growing quickly can help.
Bloch Girls Neo-flex Slip-On Leather Jazz Shoes
These jazz shoes from Bloch are made of supple leather with an arch-hugging neoprene midsection. They have a split EVA sole with a full heel counter for extra stability and shock absorption. The heel is low-profile for a greater close-to-the-floor feeling. There is also a cut-out heel notch which creates full articulation for the foot.
The neoprene insert enhances the arch to showcase your child’s foot flexibility and helps to reduce creasing when they are pointing their foot, which makes these dance shoes perfect for performances or examinations. They have a lower top-line to give them a glove-like fit. Again, you should try your child’s normal street size first.
Contemporary, modern and lyrical dance shoes
Unlike many other dance styles, the goal for contemporary dance shoes is for them to not even seem like they’re there. For contemporary dance, it should look as though you are dancing in your bare feet. But wearing dance shoes can be important to prevent damage to your feet.
Contemporary dance shoes are often extremely minimalistic with only the ball of the foot encased in the shoe and the rest of the foot left bare. The ball of your foot is the part that will make the most contact with the floor so it is this part that most needs to be protected while dancing. A contemporary shoe can also help you get more grip on the floor to stop you from sliding.
Sometimes the heel of the foot is also protected by a sole with just straps coming over the top of the foot. Other times, the front part of the foot is encased with just straps connecting it to the rest of the foot and the ankle. Some contemporary shoes are more minimalist again, with just a foot thong or glove and nothing else.
As with jazz shoes, contemporary dance shoes aren’t just for contemporary dance. Modern dance, lyrical dance, and often acro dance will also require dancers to appear barefooted.
Best contemporary dance shoes
Stelle Pirouette Dane Half-Sole Canvas Shoes
These dance shoes from Stelle encase the front part of the foot up to the metatarsals. They are made of stretch canvas that is designed for both stretching and returning so that the shoes never go out of shape. The sole at the forefoot is made of suede so provides a good balance between grip and the ability to turn and spin.
The shoes are secured using two elastic straps that have a silicone backing to prevent them from slipping off. You can wear the straps in two different ways, depending on your preference. You can either have one strap running along the sides of the foot and behind the ankle and the other strap coming across the top of the foot or you can have the second strap running underneath the foot and around the ankle.
You should order your usual street size and the shoes come in both adult and child sizes. They come in ballet pink, tan, or black.
Bloch Ladies Neoform Foot Thong
Rather than using elastic straps to secure the shoe, these dance shoes from Bloch are literally designed to fit like a glove. The shoe comes up to the metatarsals and the rest of the foot is left completely bare. They have anatomically placed holes for your toes that keep the shoe secure and allow for even weight distribution. There is silicone-backed elastic around the shoe to prevent it from slipping.
The sole of the shoe is suede to help protect the ball of the foot and the toes and to allow you to turn. There is a single large suede patch to help with stability. They have a memory foam lining to help with comfort and shock absorption and a breathable mesh upper to help with wicking.
In terms of sizing, you should refer to the Bloch sizing guide to find out what size you should buy. These shoes come in light sand, dark tan, black, or hot pink.
Capezio Women’s Footundeez
These dance shoes from Capezio also don’t have any straps to secure them to your foot. Instead, they use a thong design with a strap between your big toe and the toe next to it. A 5/8 inch strip of elastic runs across the top edge of the shoe to stop them from slipping. The sole has two suede patches that move independently of each other to help you gain greater control of your foot when turning.
These shoes come in a variety of colors to help represent your individuality, including black, espresso, light suntan, nude, leopard, pink, and zebra. You should start by ordering your usual street shoe size and they also come in children’s sizes.
Tap dance shoes
Tap shoes are quite unique in that they are both dance shoes and percussion instruments at the same time. Tap shoes can come in a wide variety of styles but what defines them is the metal taps that are secured to the forefoot and the heel. When you tap dance, these metal plates generate the tap sounds on the floor.
Some tap shoes are “built up”. This means that they have a double, or even a triple, sole. This alters the sound of the taps to make them deeper. They can also be split sole to allow for greater foot flexibility.
The metal plates can either cover the entirety of the forefoot, which allows you to create a variety of tap sounds depending on where you strike the foot on the floor, or they can have smaller plates that give you more flexibility. The plates themselves either come pre-attached or you can screw them on yourself. Tightening and loosening the plates can alter the sound of the tap so some dancers prefer to be able to attach them themselves.
Best tap dance shoes for women
Bloch Tap-flex Leather Tap Shoes
These tap shoes from Bloch look very similar to jazz shoes and, apart from the taps, they are very much the same. They have a full leather split sole with Bloch Shockwaves taps pre-attached at the forefoot and the heel. The split sole allows for greater flexibility of the foot, but it will be difficult for you to perform toe stands, so these shoes will work better for some tap styles than others.
Next to the front tap is a patch of non-slip pro balance rubber which helps to stop you from slipping and also works to level out the soles for better balance. They have a stacked heel with a strong heel counter for better shock absorption and are fully lined in Kashmir for greater comfort. The heel collar is notched to prevent rubbing at your Achilles tendon.
You should order your usual street shoe size in these shoes or half a size up if you have wide feet. They come in tan or black.
Capezio Women’s Mary Jane Tap Shoe
These tap shoes from Capezio are in a classic Mary Jane style that secures with a buckle over the top of the foot. They have a full sole with pre-attached Teletone taps at the toe and heel that are mounted on a fiberboard for better sound quality. They have a minimal toe spring and a micro-rubber outsole for better stability, flexibility, and strength.
Next to the toe tap, there is a scored rubber pad to prevent slipping and to increase your stability, and the heel counter is also non-slip. They have a cotton lining to help your feet breathe and to reduce moisture. You should order your usual street shoe size or try a size up if your feet are wide. They come in black, black patent, caramel, suntan, or tan.
Best tap dance shoes for girls
Capezio Toddler/Little Kid Jr. Tyette Tap Shoe
These Capezio tap shoes are perfect for children. They come in black patent, caramel, or white. The black patent is made of PVS and the caramel and white are made of PU. The shoes have a 0.5-inch platform and a flexible outsole with traction grooves and ridges to prevent slipping. There is also a rubber grip at the ball of the foot for even more grip on the floor.
There are Teletone toe and heel taps pre-attached onto fiberboard for a better tap sound. The toe box is light and they have a lower vamp and sides. There is a notch at the Achilles and the collar is padded to help prevent rubbing. Inside, the base of the lining is cotton with a pretty star pattern and the rest of the lining is microfiber to help with wicking. They are secured with an elastic ribbon.
You should order true to your child’s street shoe size or try a half size up if they have wider feet or are growing quickly.
Bloch Dance Girl’s Jazz Tap Shoe
These tap shoes from Bloch are similar to jazz shoes. They have a split sole to allow for greater foot flexibility with an elastic insert to improve the fit of the shoe when it’s pointing and for extra support. There is a notch at the heel to help stop the shoe from rubbing on the Achille’s tendon. The lining is made of a breathable fabric to help reduce moisture.
There are Bloch Shockwave taps attached at the toe and the heel. The heel is stacked leather to increase the quality of the tap sound. Next to the toe tap there is a rubber grip pad to reduce the chance of your child slipping when they are dancing.
You should order true to your child’s street size, or you can go for a half size up if they are growing quickly or have wide feet.
Ballroom dance shoes
At first glance, ballroom dance shoes can look like everyday heeled shoes that you would wear on an evening out. But when you look a bit closer you can see that they are specifically designed for dancing. Some ballroom dance shoes have a split sole to allow you extra foot flexibility and they usually have a suede sole to prevent sliding and to help with turning or spinning.
Ballroom dance shoes should only ever be worn on a dancefloor because the suede sole would be ruined if it got wet or scuffed. They can come in low-heel or high-heeled style and Latin ballroom dance shoes (e.g. for salsa, rumba, or cha cha) are often different from standard ballroom dance shoes (e.g. for foxtrot, waltz, or tango).
Best ballroom dance shoes for women
RoseMoli Women’s Latin Dance Shoes
These dance shoes from RoseMoli are perfect for Latin dances. They have a sandal peep-toe look around the toe area with multiple straps and they are secured with an adjustable crisscross ankle strap with a rhinestone buckle. The buckle is quick-release which is perfect if you need to change quickly before a performance and they even throw in an extra buckle in case you lose one.
The upper is made from satin and they have an elastic latex midsole to help with both fit and comfort. The lining is breathable to help with wicking and the insole is cushioned for better shock absorption and comfort. The shoes are sturdy and flexible, allowing your feet enough freedom of movement to perform the steps that you need.
The sole is made from suede to give you enough grip to prevent sliding but still be able to perform turns and spins. You can choose between a 2.2-inch or 2.8-inch heel depending on your preference and they come in black or tan. You should order your usual street shoe size.
Bloch Ladies Annabella Latin Practice Shoes
These dance shoes from Bloch are designed for practice rather than performing. They are suitable for both Latin and standard ballroom dancing, as well as for dances like swing. They are lightweight and have a crossed open-toe design. They have a full heel cup with an adjustable ankle strap for better fit and stability. The ankle strap is secured with a pin-buckle fastening.
They have a flexible suede sole that allows you to point and flex your foot and also gives you enough grip to be able to turn and spin without slipping. The insole is padded for better comfort. The heel is a low 1.5 inch and is wide and placed in the middle for greater stability.
You should order your usual street shoe size or a half size up if you have wide feet.
Best ballroom dance shoes for girls
Capezio Junior Footlight
These Capezio children’s ballroom dance shoes come in caramel, white, tan, black, suntan, black patent, or silver. They have a soft PU leather upper and a leather sole. The sole is scored for better traction on the floor and to reduce the chance of your child slipping. They have a moisture-absorbent microfiber lining and a padded footbed for greater comfort.
There is also a notch at the top of the heel to prevent rubbing on your child’s Achilles tendon, as well as a soft folded edge topline and a lightly padded collar. The heel is 1.5 inches and is made from plastic with a scored leather top lift. They are secured with a leather buckle which can allow you to adjust the fit.
You should start by ordering half a size up from your child’s normal street shoe size. These shoes are also compatible with Teletone taps so they can be converted into tap shoes if you ever wanted to.
MissFiona Girls Latin Salsa Dance Shoes
These Latin dance shoes are also suitable for standard ballroom dancing. They have a satin upper with a peep-toe strap design at the front a full heel cup at the back. They are secured with an ankle strap that loops around the ankle for a contemporary look and the buckle and clip are quick-release for fast shoe changes.
They have a small 1.37-inch heel and the sole is made from suede to help prevent slipping but to still allow your child to spin, glide, and turn. The sole is flexible to allow them to fully point or flex their foot. The insole is soft and cushioned for greater comfort. You should order true to your child’s street shoe size or half a size up if they have wide feet or are growing quickly (remember that the sizing is adjustable with the ankle strap).
The bottom line
Finding the right dance shoes can be a challenge but there is a wealth of options out there for styles and fits that will work for you. Remembering that different dance styles have very different shoe requirements is important as well as understanding how these various shoe types will fit on your feet. Once you find the perfect pair of dance shoes for you and the type of dance you are learning/performing you will feel the difference immediately in your confidence and your ability to perform the moves and steps that you need to.