Their story began in 1924 – a story of a local dancewear company that started out small but became “the first name in dance.”
Leo’s Dancewear, Inc., was founded more than 85 years ago by trained shoe designer, Leo Harris. His singular dream was to produce the world’s finest handcrafted shoes. He began in the old Capitol building in downtown Chicago, where the location would eventually shape his destiny.
Next door to Balaban & Katz’s Chicago Theatre, across from the State-Lake Theatre and a short distance from the Oriental Theatre, Leo’s shoemaking establishment gave the dancers and choreographers a place to go for quick fixes and repairs. Each of Leo’s neighboring theatres had stage shows, ballets and as many as 8 or 10 musicals playing simultaneously. Demand for handmade and individually designed shoes in the theatre world was high. And as the old adage goes, Leo Harris was in the right place at the right time. An American business was born.
Trained in Europe, Leo Harris built his line of dance shoes based on his customers’ requests and suggestions. He worked with local dancers and visiting professionals to include what they wanted in designs. Leo researched the anatomy of the body and the physics of dance and molded them into dance shoes that worked in harmony with the dancer to achieve optimum performance. The “Rainbow Arch,” “On-The-Square Toe,” and “Expanding Heel” were among Leo’s early innovative ideas.
As dance began to revolve more around schools than professional dancers another opportunity presented itself: teachers needed shoes and costumes for performances and competitions. Progression from dance shoes to bodywear, costumes, tights and accessories seemed logical and inevitable.
Leo’s Dancewear has grown to more than 150 employees and a 100,000 square foot office space, manufacturing facility, warehouse and distribution center.
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