So you’ve decided to learn to ballroom dance- fantastic! Let’s talk shoes. What is best for your feet and knees is a good quality pair of dance shoes.
What makes a good pair of dance shoes different from any other type of shoe?
Suede soles, arch support, a properly-placed heel, and a snug fit, color, and style are all key elements of your next pair of ballroom dance shoes.
Suede Soles – Suede soles are probably the most important distinction between the proper dance shoes and any other shoes. Suede soles are thin, allowing your foot to move comfortably and feel the floor. They also give you the proper level of grip, with enough slip to allow for turning and spinning minus the knee injuries.
It is worth noting that suede-soled dance shoes are different from character shoes. As you may see in the center photo, character shoes have a thicker raw leather sole, which is slippery on a dance floor. They don’t flex in the same manner as ballroom dance shoes. Character shoes are not ideal for the ballroom dance floor, although, they would be better for a concrete bar floor or outdoor event.
It is also worth noting that athletic shoes are bad for dancing. Rubber soles are made to grip the ground. When you try to spin, and your shoes are trying to grip the floor, your knees take a lot of rotational stress.
Supportive – Although ballroom dance shoes have a flexible thin suede sole under the ball of your foot, your arches are supported by a less flexible steel or plastic shank. Your feet are further supported by heel placement. Let’s be honest- high heels are precarious anyway, but with the heels placed underneath your heels as opposed to the back of your shoes, your feet and ankles are better supported than if you tried to dance on your favorite Friday night stilettos. As a bonus note: my wife swears by T-straps as extra supportive of her feet.
Snug Fit – When purchasing dance shoes, they should fit snug but not tight. Think about putting on a glove. Extra material can become aggravating, but a well-fitting sleek glove helps to maintain manual dexterity. Use the same concept when fitting your shoes. Don’t fit them comfy and loose like you would any other everyday shoe. In addition to fitting the heel and width of your foot, your toes should come to the end of your shoe (see her left foot).
Color – Dance shoes come in many many colors and color combinations. Feel free to peruse the internet for your favorite colors. However, you should have a pair of nude, tan, or bronze. Shoes that blend into your skin will go with anything you wear; more important skin-toned shoes extend your leg line, whereas black shoes tend to shorten your leg lines.
Style – Each dance style has an associated dance shoe. For ballroom dancing, we break our dances into two main styles with two main styles of associated shoes:
–Smooth/Standard – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, and Quickstep. These dances travel around the floor in a counterclockwise circuit. Most dancers opt for closed toe pumps with slightly lower heels to allow for smooth transitions as they roll through the foot. Shoes with closed toe boxes keep toenails protected from cracks in the floor and other shoes.
–Rhythm/Latin – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing and Jive, Mambo, Bolero, Paso Doble, Samba, Salsa, Merengue, Bachata. These dance are considered spot dances, which stay in place on the dance floor and use plenty of hip action. Rhythm and Latin dancers place the ball of the foot on the ground and then roll to the full foot. Because of the foot and hip action of the dance styles, dancers often prefer strappy sandals with higher heels to emphasize leg lines.
Your first dance class, take a look at what others are wearing. Touch and feel the difference between a ballroom dance shoe and a character shoe (for example). Ask other dancers which brand, style, etc has been their favorites and why. You’ll get some great advice!
Don’t worry about getting a pair of dance shoes prior to your first class.
Once you do decide to get a pair of strappy sandals (that’s what most ballroom and social dancers start with), make sure they are
-Snug, but not tight.
Your toes go to the front of the shoe, your heels go to the back.
-Supportive of your feet
For example, my wife prefers T-straps
If you like to wear 2” heels, 4” heels are not necessary.
-Skin tone, tan, nude, etc.
Sandals that blend in with your skin, extend your leg line, and go with your legs, which go with everything. Black shoes work when you never want to display your leg lines.
Shoe Maintenance – As you dance, your suede soles, which are like carpet when you first get your shoes, become matted and may even gather dust or whatever else you step on. You will want to brush out the dust and refresh the knapp of your suede soles occasionally. The best tool is a shoe brush. I prefer a file cleaning brush from the local hardware store. Be careful when you get a shoe brush from a shoe store, as there is another type of shoe brush with thinner, more pliable bristles. If it feels like a metal toothbrush, it is not the right style. Your shoe brush should have very stiff bristles as shown above.
Now that you know what and why, the next question is where.
The best selections will be online. I use danceshopper.com or the manufacturers websites and go with a European style like SupaDance or Ray Rose as they tend to be better-made than discount brands such as Very Fine.
Expect to pay between $75 and $150 for a good pair of shoes and know that a small investment for good dance shoes will be much better than injured knees and feet.
When ordering, pay close attention to the sizing guide and conversion charts. Your shoes may be American size or English, etc. I measured both feet in centimeters and found that 8.5 is an appropriate fit from SupaDance.
Try your shoes on clean carpet. If you must return them for a different size, they should look unused.
If you want to try on a pair of shoes before you purchase, look for local competitions, conventions, dance camps, or other dance events, as they usually have out of town dance show vendors who can offer good fitting advice as well as an assortment of shoes.
Locally, sometimes ballet, tap, and jazz stores have a small selection of ballroom dance shoes (avoid Capezio as I’ve had several ladies complain of knee pain which stopped when they changed to a different brand).
Peronne’s in Hammond, Humbug’s in Kenner, Ric Seeling’s in Baton Rouge have shoes available to try.
Just to recap: Your first pair of dance shoes should be a pair of strappy sandals made specifically for ballroom dancing, with suede soles, good arch support, snug fit, and skin tone. You should also, get a shoe brush to refresh your suede soles, and never wear your shoes outside of the dance venue.