History of Dance Shoes

Updated February 21, 2017

As with all dance wear, dance shoes originated from everyday wear, when performers simply wore their own clothing and shoes. However, as dance styles grew in complexity and industry, so did the demand for well-crafted, specialised shoes that allowed dancers to achieve sharper technique. Two of the most popular styles of dance shoes in the United States are ballet and tap shoes. These shoes are manufactured in all sizes, from toddler through adult and are available in all grades from cheaper amateur and practice shoes to those of professional quality.

Ballet Shoes in the Late 17th Century to the Mid 19th Century

Shoes called straights are worn for ballroom dancing. They have no block in the foot, as later pointe shoes would. In the mid 18th century, the standard ballet shoe has heels. Ballerina Marie Camargo wears a shoe without a heel so she can better execute leaps.

In the mid 1800s in St. Petersburg, a crazed fan of prima ballerina Marie Taglioni obtains a pair of her ballet shoes and eats them cooked in a sauce. Around the time of the French Revolution, ballet breaks from its traditional origins, and demand for more specialised shoe grows.

Ballet Shoes from the Mid 19th Century to the 20th Century

Renowned shoemaker Paris Janssen becomes resident shoemaker to the Paris Opera House in 1879. After the French revolution, heels are completely eliminated from ballet shoes. They are constructed primarily of leather and have pleats on the soles, allowing the dancers to stretch and leap more easily. In 1887, street shoemaker Salvatore Capezio repairs Jean de Reske's ballet shoes because his shop is located near the Metropolitan. He then decides to specialise in ballet shoes. Capezio is founded in the United States and expands throughout the world for the next 130 years. They sell dance wear and specialise in Pointe shoes.

In the early 20th century, Isadora Duncan dances barefoot onstage. Modern and fusion dance continues this trend. Pointe shoes are still the main style used in classical ballet, but innovations such as split soles allow for more comfort.

History of Tap Shoes

In its beginnings, tap is a means of wordless communication between slaves on riverboats in the south. They pat out rhythms on the wooden deck with bare, calloused feet. Early minstrels wear wood-soled shoes in performance. The introduction of the metal tap revolutionises the sound and style of the dance. By the 1930s, iron tap shoes get bigger and bolder to account for a louder style in tap performance. Broadway style tap shoes, or character shoe styles, have a 1- to 2-inch heel, an ankle, and t-straps.

Children's Tap Shoes

During the Great Depression, orders for children's tap shoes rise, likely due to the popularity of child star Ms. Shirley Temple, who performed in flat eyelet style tap shoes with a big bow through them and ankle socks. These remain the basic children's style, but SoDanca introduces an elastic-strap tap shoe for better ease of use. The eyelets remain for recital bows. Capezio has designed a Mary Jane style tap shoe which offers a heel and sturdy ankle strap.


Today, tap shoes come in a variety of style, including the Broadway "character shoe" style, Mary Janes and split-soled for comfort and flexibility. Tap shoes are available at different quality grades, from more inexpensive shoes, which can be purchased at department stores, to professional, custom-made shoes.

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