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Dance Shoes – What You Need to Know

To the untrained eye, dance shoes seem like just another pair of shoes. A lot of new students will put off buying the proper shoes for far too long. Whatever you do, don’t wait!  Could you imagine showing up to play 18 holes of golf with your buddies wearing all the right gear, but missing golf shoes? Would you forego those oh-so attractive shoes when you go bowling? There is something to be said about wearing the proper footwear for the sport; ballroom dancing is no different.

Being an experienced dancer, I have danced in both regular street shoes as well as high heels. Usually the next day I’m reminded of why Ballroom Dance shoes are so important. I will always wake up with a spot somewhere on my foot that hurts from the stiffness of street shoes. I also find that both my legs and knees will hurt. This is due to regular shoes sticking to the ground when you execute turns.  Regular shoes create a delayed response in how your foot swivels in relation to your body, putting extra load on your joints. When I’m wearing my dance shoes, I can turn smoothly and let my movements flow.

Proper dance footwear is very important.  As I’ve gotten older, I have come to realize just how critical they are. Yes, Mom…you were right, yet again. Dance shoes are pretty unique; you can’t buy them at a regular store. You can only buy them at a Ballroom Dance shoe store. One of the things that make the shoes so unique is that the bottoms are suede. The suede makes it easy to spin, turn, and twist without the floor seeming too slippery.

Dance shoes are also flexible, allowing you to point, kick, and move properly while the shoe bends with you. My students always say they are surprised at how comfortable their shoes are, and that’s because of the flex. While flexibility is important, it’s also essential that the shoe is not too flimsy. For the support required, dance shoemakers put a “shank” in the arch of the shoe. The majority of women’s shoes also have some sort of ankle strap that keeps the shoe firmly on their feet.

Thankfully, dance shoes are all lightweight, which prevents your legs from getting tired as quickly. This is an important feature, especially for men. When learning to dance, male students are always worried about stepping on their partner’s feet. No matter how good of a dancer you are, at some point it’s bound to happen. Getting stepped on by a man’s heavy dress shoe or boot is no joke – proper dance shoes definitely lessen the pain.

Chances are once you see the selection of dance shoes in the store, you will be overwhelmed by the various options and styles. For the men, I would recommend a basic, black leather lace up shoe…they should be easy to spot. Compared to women’s shoes, there isn’t as much variety in the men’s lines.Note: there are men’s dance shoes with a “Latin heel,” which feature a 2-inch heel. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing those unless you compete in big time Latin competitions. For everyday lessons, dancing, and even competitions, the standard black units are fine. You will also see patent leather, which looks a lot like the typical wedding shoe. These are typically only used for Ballroom competitions.  They have a very dressy look that compliments the men’s tail suits. Some of the shoe companies have gotten a little more creative recently, tooling options that look more like street shoes, with a wingtip or braided design. These are all great shoes – as long as they are really dance-specific shoes.

For the ladies: your first instinct will be to buy black shoes, which are fine for dancing nights out on the town. However, you will want to purchase a nude or tan pair, preferably with an open toe and straps. This is an all around good shoe that you will be able to wear to lessons, out dancing, and even at competitions.

These are the shoes of Ballroom dancers. The idea behind it is it gives you a long leg line. Dance floors are, more often than not, brown in color and black shoes will stand out. You want people to watch your body, not your feet. This is similar to why Ballerinas wear pink/nude ballet shoes…it makes for pretty dancing.

You will see close-toe style pumps as well. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing these unless you are competing in a Smooth Ballroom Dance Competition. The shoes tend to be a bit stiffer and are definitely not for everyday use. When I was competing, I had to wear that style and my toes were squished in the closed toe – my big toe hasn’t been the same since.

Don’t worry though – this was only at a highly competitive level. Ladies’ shoes will come in a variety of heel heights. A 2.5 inch heel works great for pretty much everything. The 3 inch rhythm shoe is also fine if you are used to heels, otherwise, it isn’t necessary. Anything taller than that, in my opinion, will make balancing and dancing more difficult.

With all of this being said, I do believe there is some magic in dance shoes. You will not only dance better, but also feel better – that alone is worth the investment.

Live, Love, Dance and Enjoy!



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