Dancing Shoes 101

In my previous post, I discussed what you needed to know for your first dance lesson.  I mentioned that it wouldn’t be necessary to go out and buy a pair of dance shoes for your first lesson.  But, what if you’ve continued dancing for a while now, decided that you really love it, and are ready to buy a real pair dance shoes?  You may be wondering where to start...  Well, I’m here to tell you to wonder no more because I’ve got some pretty essential tips for you! 


Find the perfect fit

            The most important thing is to make sure you feel comfortable in you dance shoes.  They should fit like a glove; nice and snug.  You wouldn’t want your shoe to go flying off in the middle of practice or a performance would you?  (I have…  It’s not fun…) However, you also don’t want your shoe to be so tight that you lose all feeling in your toes.  Dancing might be hard on your feet sometimes, but you don’t need to add any unnecessary pressure. 

Most shoe brands will fit your feet just fine as long as you go with your regular street shoe size, but it may vary across vendors and personal preferences.  Some dancers may even go down a half or full size from their regular shoe size.  The best way to know for sure is to try on a pair before you buy them.  If you can find a store or dance studio to go in and try on some shoes, then please do so!   It’s the best way to find out which size and brand works best for you.  A professional will also be able to help you out in person.  If you are shopping for shoes online, just take special care with the details.  Check the sizing charts that the website provides to see if there are any conversions (some brands run small).


Suede is the way to go

            Probably the second most important thing is make sure that your dance shoes have suede soles.  The suede on the bottom of the shoe makes it easier for you to glide across the floor.  Regular shoes may have a tendency to stick to the floor and others may be too slippery, so suede is the solution which will make you move with ease and stability.


Dealing with heels

            The heel discussion applies more to ladies, since men’s shoes typically don’t have much of a heel (sorry guys).  Women’s heels typically range from 1 to 3 inches.  If you are not yet comfortable dancing in heels, I would recommend starting with a 1 inch heel.  A beginner will usually start off with no higher than a 2 inch heel, and move up in height as they get more comfortable with their dancing (you can also use arch supports to help with any discomfort).


Know your style

            While shopping around you will notice three main types of ballroom shoes – Standard, Latin, and practice. 

Women’s standard shoes look like closed-toe pumps.  These shoes are best for doing smooth/standard dances (Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, etc.).  If you know that you will mostly be doing smooth/standard or if you prefer a closed-toe shoe, then a standard shoe will be good for you.  A men’s standard shoe will look similar to an oxford-style, regular dress shoe.  Men: if you only ever purchase one type of dance shoe, it should be standard!

A women’s Latin shoe will resemble an open-toed sandal.  The heel will vary from 1.5 to 3 inches.  If you know that you will spend most of your time doing Latin/rhythm dances (Rumba, Cha-Cha, etc.) then this is the shoe for you.  Ladies: if you only ever buy one type of dance shoe (and are fine with open-toes), make it Latin!  Men’s Latin shoes have slightly taller heel (called a Cuban heel) than the standard men’s shoes (most men only ever wear their Latin shoes for competitions, so unless you’re preparing for one, stick with a standard shoe).

Finally, practice shoes are a type that you might frequently see while browsing for dance shoes.  A women’s practice shoe looks similar to a men’s standard shoe, but with a slightly higher heel.  These types of shoes are optional to own.  Most dancers only have them to give themselves a break from their high heels or so they don’t wear down their regular dance shoes.


Break in your shoes

              It’s important to break in your shoes so that you get used to comfortably moving in them.  As I mentioned before, when you first get your shoes, they should be fairly tight.  They may feel really snug at first, but as you continue to practice with them, the fit should loosen up a bit (which is why it’s best to have a tight fit in the first place).  The best way to break in your shoes is to use them every time you come to practice.  You can also walk around in them for a bit if you’re not in practice.  If you have new shoes that you are going to be using for an upcoming performance, make sure you start breaking those in at least a few days before show time (note: if you have been trying to break in your new shoes for more than a 3-5 days and they still feel extremely uncomfortable, you may need a bigger size).


Love your shoes

            Last but not least, you want to make sure that your shoes are properly taken care of.  The best way to keep them clean is to only wear them out on the dance floor.  If you wear them outside, the suede bottoms could get ruined, dirty, and sticky.  If you end up wearing down your soles over time, you will need to brush the bottoms of your shoes with a wire dance shoe brush so that the suede maintains its texture.  If you don’t already own a wire brush, don’t worry because your studio and/or instructor will definitely have one for you to use.

            Also make sure that you air out your shoes every once in a while! J