The history of the LaDuca shoes

The original, leading flexible character shoes – made by and for the dancer.
By Phil LaDuca

Having worked as Broadway and concert dance performer as well as an international dance educator, I witnessed first-hand a void in the industry: a dance shoe that addressed the needs and demands of the professional dancer. 

Determined to provide the dancer with the ultimate instrument to promote their artistry—one that not only looked beautiful by extending the dancer’s line, but also provided the support and functionality critical to the athleticism of the art form—I had my work cut out for me. 

I knew that my goal was at odds not only with the common practice of shoemaking, but also with the laws of counterbalance—making a shoe that is flexible enough to articulate a pointed foot yet strong enough to support the dancer while performing jumps, turns, leaps, slides, and more (and often in in high heels!).

Through years of blood, sweat, and tears and thanks to the invaluable support, love, friendship, feedback, and feet of many brilliant performers, I finally found the magical formula of the LaDuca shoe with the perfect balance of freeing flexibility and steadfast support.

While the science of the LaDuca shoe sets it apart from the rest, aesthetic is not compromised. I wanted LaDucas to look just as stunning as they feel to dance in. All LaDuca shoes are hand-crafted in Italy by world-renowned Italian artisans working with the finest Italian leathers. Dubbed by the New York Times as ‘the Gucci of dance shoes,’ LaDuca Shoes are constantly copied, but never duplicated. 

Here’s a brief history of each of my signature LaDuca shoes to help you find the shoe of your dancing dreams.

The CHERIE—1st original LaDuca design

The Cherie was my first original creation and design, named after the stunning Broadway/concert dancer and ballet mistress, Cherie Bower. Its single, off-center strap design utilizes the ankle strap with a lone strap running down, attached off-center to the outside of the toe box. This design creates an exquisite line elongating the leg by extending the line to the tip of the toes. The Cherie is a popular custom style choice for weddings and fashion, as well as for dancers whose feet don’t require stronger retention.

Pictured: Cherie Bower

The ALEXIS—Y Strap

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. My second original creation, the Alexis Y strap design, came from my recognizing the need to address the large percentage of dancers with bunions and protruding toe knuckles which pull on the inside of the shoe and overstretch the leather. In order to hold that area of the foot in the toe box, I split straps to form and inverted YThis, split strap connects to each side of the shoe provides additional hold and support, ensuring the entire foot—including the ball and toe knuckles—stay in the toe box while pointing, thereby fully finishing the beautiful line of the foot. The Alexis is very popular LaDuca style as it not only guarantees your entire foot stays in the shoe, but also gives a stunning completion to your line by allowing maximum point-ability.

Pictured: Taeler Cyrus in the Alexis


I designed the Elizabeth for the incredible Broadway star and prima danseur, Elizabeth Parkinson. With such gifted dancers as Ms. Parkinson, who boasts wonderfully articulate and incredibly strong feet with very high arches, it is challenging to find shoes that empower their instruments rather than constrain or jeopardize safety. For feet of such force, I designed the X Strap style. It consists of an ankle strap with cross straps attached to the ankle strap down to the two outer sides of the toe box, forming and X, (with an additional strap crossing over the arch for added support). This design allows for the utmost flexibility and security, perfect for dancers with high arches and/or incredibly strong feet.

Pictured: Elizabeth Parkinson in Broadway’s MOVIN’ OUT

The TERESA—T Strap

The Teresa features an ankle strap with the standard down-the-center T strap, a classical look for all dance shows and styles. The Teresa provides the same fantastic fit, feel, and functionality expected from every LaDuca shoe. The T strap style is your standard, all-around look required by many professional productions and collegiate musical theater programs as it is a neutral, versatile style able to cross over many time and costume periods.

Pictured: Cameron Adams in the Teresa


Inspired and named after Broadway icon, Rachelle (SAS) Rak, this design provides optimal functionality of a LaDuca with Rachelle’s trademark full-out style. To ‘SAS it up,” the Rachelle presents a sleek tapered toe with a slender spooled heel. The design also features cross straps at the ankle and a diamond featured T strap because, as we all know, “diamonds are a girl’s best friend!” This style provides ideal support and pointing ability with a more contemporary flair.

Pictured: Rachelle Rak

The LEANNE—Bow Strap

I designed this shoe for prima ballerina and Broadway/West End star, Leanne Cope. Knowing Leanne’s brilliant versatility and artistry, I had to push my imagination and innovation. Leanne’s classic yet modern beauty inspired me to create a virtual variation on a theme. With the assistance of Brian Bustos (LaDuca’s Chief Creative Officer), we sculptured a classical ankle strap with an inverted V/bow strap adorned with a double buckle side strap. This combination of style, grace, comfort, and functionality gives the dancer the look and feel of a pro. This style is recommended for those looking to expand and elevate their dance repertoire as well as their LaDuca collection.

Pictured: Leanne Cope in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS

The ROXIE—T Strap Tap Shoe
*The Official Tap Shoe of the Radio City Rockettes

One of my earliest creations was the Roxie T strap tap shoe, which I was asked to design for the world-famous Radio City Rockettes. I designed a strong, durable tap shoe that would be able to withstand the Rockettes’ performance demands (sometimes up to four shows per day during the holiday season) and keep the dancers free from injury. The Roxie features a traditional T strap with a full, closed-sided upper and reinforced internal components for support. The Roxie is beauty built to last — the finest tap shoe on the market.

Pictured: The Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

The ANGELIQUE—Closed-Sided T Strap

The Angelique is for the performer in need of a comfortable yet supportive character shoe rather than one with tremendous flexibility. Its sleek and refined design is highlighted with V patterns on the heel and toe boxes. A thinner heel adds elegance without compromising stability. The Angelique is the perfect shoe for musical theater performers (singers, actors, and dancers alike) looking for a structured and supportive character shoe. The Angelique can also be tapped and rubbered for an elegant tap shoe style.

Pictured: Emma Stone wearing a rendition of the Angelique in the Broadway revival of CABARET

The RITA—Open Toe T Strap

Inspired by and named after movie musical icon, Rita Hayworth, I created a tulip open toe T strap style designed to give the dancer a beautiful line with a peep toe tease. The signature LaDuca flexible sole and wider heel provide the perfect balance of freedom and stability. This design is a favorite of showgirls and ballroom dancers alike. 

Pictured: Rita Hayworth

The ANNIE—Can-Can Boot

My first boot design was inspired by the extraordinary dancer/choreographer and my dear friend, Ann Reinking. To feature Annie’s legendary long legs, I wanted to create a timeless shoe that accentuated the dancer’s leg line in a stable boot that allowed the dancer to perform with complete abandon and virtuosity, as Annie always so beautifully did. Combining unparalleled stability, support, flexibility, and articulation, the Annie is a popular shoe both on the stage and in the studio.

Pictured: Ann Reinking in “All That Jazz”

The ZIZI—Can-Can Boot

I designed this boot as an homage to the brilliant dancer, singer, and actress, Zizi Jeanmaire. This can-can boot is reminiscent of the world-famous Parisian style of dance. The Zizi gives the dancer the same gorgeous line, stability, support, flexibility and articulation as the Annie, only with a more tapered, non-capped toe box and an angled leg shaft to accentuate the calf muscle. This boot is frequently used in operas and period productions.

Pictured: Zizi Jeanmaire

The LAURA—Can-Can Boot

Co-designed by LaDuca’s Chief Creative Officer, Brian Bustos, the Laura is the quintessential shoe for Broadway’s triple threat—inspired by Broadway’s own Laura Benanti. We took the best of both worlds—the jazz style of the Annie and the elegance of the Zizi—then elevated this boot to new heights by giving it an impressive 3-inch heel, culminating in the ultimate power dance boot. The Laura is perfect for the established dancer who is confident in their technique and ready to take their dancing to the next level.

Pictured: Laura Benanti

The EDWARD—Lace-Up Oxford Character Shoe

The Edward was my first original design for men. I owe the inspiration to the legendary CATS choreographer, Gillian Lynne, when I was asked do the shoes for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for her and costume designer, Anthony Ward on the West End. A ballerina by trade, Gillian demanded more giving footwear for the dancers in her shows. Also, Anthony wanted a classic look to the shoe so it could be used for multiple characters and costumes in the show. Keeping true to my concept of duality (strength and support with flexibility and articulation), I created a men’s character shoe that looked like an evening dress shoe yet provides the freedom to perform ballet technique. Thus, the Edward (a nod to British royalty), was born. The Edward is available as a soft sole character shoe with a hard leather heel or as a fully hard sole that can also be rubbered and tapped.

The LUIGI—Lace Up Soft Sole Jazz Shoe

I realized that a lot of shows and choreography required a ‘softer’ shoe for classical jazz dance (think Jack Cole, Peter Gennaro, etc.). The Luigi, named after the great jazz dance innovator and educator, features a soft sole, low-creped heeled jazz shoe that feels like a glove for the feet. This style is very popular for adagio work, rehearsals, and even acrobatics as it functions similar to a ballet slipper with a cushioned heel for a supportive landing.

Pictured: Luigi

The TORI – Split Hard Sole Flexible Boot

The Tori boot marries two worlds: the fashion of rock n’ roll and the sensuality of flamenco dance. I started with a high hard heel for style, strength, and sound. Then I incorporated thick elastic on the outside and added a zipper on the inside for easy wear. The hard leather sole is split in half, making it equally strong and flexible for exquisite lines and superb durability. The Tori boot is for dancers who want the support and strength of a boot with optimal ‘dance- ability’ and serious style.

Pictured: Antonio Banderas wearing the Tori in the film, “Take the Lead”

The PAOLO—Soft Sole Flexible Boot

The Paolo has a Wellington boot-style ankle with a hard leather heel and a fully soft, flexible sole. A wide elastic gusset over the arch allows for maximum foot articulation. This shoe is perfect for dancers wanting a fully supportive boot with the flexibility to show off their incredible feet. 

Pictured: Katy Perry’s Firework Tour (back-up dancers in silver Paolo boots)

The ANTONIO—Lace Up Short Shaft Flexible Character Boot

The magnificent Antonio Banderas inspired the Antonio boot, which was co-designed by LaDuca’s Chief Creative Officer, Brian Bustos. This boot addresses the needs of both the choreographer and the costume designer—the Antonio looks like a work boot but functions like a flexible jazz shoe. The Antonio gives you everything you need in a boot: support, durability, flexibility, and the confidence to perform and perfect any dance step (including tumbling and other athletic feats).

Pictured: Antonio Bandera

The ROBERTO—Lace Up Soft Shoe Flexible Jazz Boot

The Roberto was inspired by the legendary director and choreographer, Bob Fosse. When Fosse danced, he seemed to float on the stage. And still today, his eclectic style is synonymous with cool. Brian Bustos (LaDuca’s Chief Creative Officer) and I created a boot that fit like a glove, molded to the foot, and just oozed cool jazz. A soft sole, small crepe heeled, lace up jazz boot, the Roberto offers maximum support and functionality with the freeing feeling as if you were dancing barefoot.

Pictured: Bob Fosse

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