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A ballet shoe, or ballet slipper, is a lightweight shoe designed specifically for ballet dancing. It may be made from soft leather, canvas, or satin, and has flexible, thin soles. Traditionally, women wear pink shoes and men wear white or black shoes. Tan coloured slippers—which are unobtrusive and thus give the appearance of dancing barefoot—are worn in modern ballets and sometimes modern dancing by both men and women.
Most ballet dancers wear soft ballet slippers for the main part of the ballet class. More advanced female dancers may change into point shoes for centre work and performance.
Ballet shoes must fit very closely to the foot, for safety and to retain maximum flexibility.
Ballet shoes traditionally have a leather sole which does not reach all the way to the edges of the shoe. A modern development is the split sole, which provides greater flexibility and emphasises the shape of the foot when pointed. They are usually made from soft leather, canvas or satin. Leather shoes are long-lasting. Canvas shoes are less expensive but wear faster than average leather ballet shoes. Satin shoes are worn only for performance as they wear out very quickly.
Shoes are secured with the use of elastic, most often with a single band across the arch of the foot, or with two bands that cross in an "X" shape at the top of the arch. In the case of double band shoes, some ballet slipper manufacturers will attach one end of each band to the shoe as part of the production process, and leave it to the purchaser to attach the free ends of the bands for optimal fit.
Women began to dance ballet in 1682; twenty years after King Louis XIV of France ordered the founding of the Royal Academy of Dance. At that time, the standard women's ballet shoe had heels. Mid 18th century dancer Marie Camargo of the Paris Opéra Ballet was the first to wear a non-heeled shoe. After the French Revolution, heels were completely eliminated from standard ballet shoes, as they still are.
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