Pros & Cons
There’s often a question about which material is best for dancers to wear in footwear for dance. Some suggest leather is best at any age and on any surface, while others argue it’s only preferred for younger dancers, with the rationale being that the material provides a little more resistance to help develop early foot strength (Not true. Read on!).
For many parents, the costs of dance play a significant role and so it’s often a question of prioritising for durability; while for many teachers their preference often comes down to choosing based on personal aesthetics and/or cultural tradition.
At MDM we work to foster a culture of challenging our assumptions and traditions to better understand them, and come to know why we choose to value, discard or build on them.
Below we’ve developed the case for Canvas vs Leather to assist you in choosing the right material for your child, student, studio or store.
In general, it’s true that leather is more durable than other materials. It will last longer before breaking down and needing to be replaced.
However, canvas today is far more durable than it used to be. Unless the foot has stopped growing, a student is far more likely to grow out of any shoe, be it canvas or leather, than have it wear out. A quality canvas shoe, such as provided by MDM is unlikely to wear out before the student grows out of it. Indeed, it’s typically the growth that forces the break-down of the shoe, and arguably a tougher material might restrict or put too much pressure on the foot as it tries to grow.
Note: this is not the case for stretch canvas shoes, which have not been designed with durability as a priority but have instead been specifically developed for a sock-like fit and feel, better suited for syllabus exams, performances and competitions.
Develops foot strength
This is quite simply a myth. No material used in footwear for dance will help build strength. Any extra resistance the material or the full sole provides may subtly help the dancer develop a kinaesthetic awareness that they’re pushing through something compared to a bare foot; a feeling which can later be extrapolated to the floor during Tendu and Rond de Jambe etc. Yet it is through these movements, jumps and specific exercises that foot strength develops, and not via the material any ballet flat is constructed of, which includes the traditional 2mm piece of leather in a full sole.
There is an argument that a full-sole shoe when worn early in a dancers journey provides some benefits for younger feet (the development of that kinaesthetic awareness), and MDM’s patented Dance Base Support and Hybrid sole have been specifically designed to serve this purpose even better, while also providing multiple other benefits.
The relationship between the floor surface and the shoe material provides the best argument for why someone should choose canvas or leather. While this is a guide only, as some wooden floors use washes to increase grip, while some linoleum floors become slippery due to lotions etc. in general, leather is a material better suited to a wooden floor, which can get dusty and as such slippery, and therefore the leather offers a better grip/slip balance on that surface. Often canvas can feel a little slippery – though products like Rosin can help – and in such cases a dancer might feel they have to over-work, or grip to hold their rotation.
The opposite is true however on a linoleum/Tarkett floor, where the leather can tend to provide too much grip, which can screw the ankle and knee joints during turns leading to issues over time. It can also provide too much assistance to young children to “turn out” from their feet rather than encouraging them to turn out by engaging their hip rotator muscles. That is, they unconsciously learn to use the extra grip provided by the leather to hold their feet in a turned-out position. This issue is often exacerbated as young children will more naturally, and unconsciously, push forward into the front of their ankle (dropping the Navicular area) to get the benefit the extra grip the leather provides, which can become part of establishing a habit of pronating.
Price & Cleanliness
Here canvas tends to win hands down against leather. Canvas is almost always more affordable than the comparable leather style and is usually machine washable, which makes keeping the shoe clean and looking fresh much easier. Canvas also tends to breath better than leather meaning the feet will likely sweat less and the canvas will bounce back a little after washing – much like a pair of denim jeans – keeping the material from losing its form around the foot.
As added bonuses; canvas tends to break-in left and right more quickly than leather, contouring to the foot a little more for superior aesthetics, and MDM’s stretch canvas INTRINSIC PROFILE 2.0 comes with an anti-bacterial in the fabric.
Increasingly consumers are considering the environmental impacts their choices have, and while canvas, which is made of cotton still isn’t a great choice in terms of its environmental impact, being water intensive relative to some fabric alternatives, as a material it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of cow leather, which records one of the worst impacts.
See MDM’s INTRINSIC PROFILE (V); our Vegan alternative.
While some syllabus still require that ribbons are attached for specific grades, the vast majority of syllabus working today – and all of the major ones in Australia – do not enforce whether a student wears canvas or leather for exams (neither do they dictate full sole or split sole). No child will be marked down because they’ve chosen to wear canvas, leather, full sole or split sole. General neatness and presentation, an appreciation of studio culture, their understanding of technique and the development of their artistry are the areas being assessed.
For class and rehearsals, if you’re primarily working on a wooden floor, then it’s more likely you should be choosing leather footwear.
However, for class and rehearsals, if you’re working on a linoleum/Tarkett floor, then it would be far better to choose a canvas ballet shoe.
For exams, competitions and Eisteddfods the choice nowadays tends to be toward choosing a stretch canvas shoe or a softer, more malleable leather (see MDM’s Elemental Reflex Performance) that better contours to the foot for a superior aesthetic fit and feel.
Yet again, the surface you’re working on should be a key factor. For some, increasingly many, the stretch canvas shoe has become their go-to for class and rehearsals, due to the increased benefit they offer in fit and feel off-setting any loss in durability.
We hope this helps and if you have any questions or feedback please contact us at [email protected]