Dance Shoes Suck Rocks!
by Cindy Gardner
Help! Im stuck to the floor! Why cant I slip and slide with the best of them? As instructors, we frequently hear your wails of distress. And its true; your dance shoes will directly affect your dancing. But dont sweat its not always necessary to go out and spend your life savings on cool shoes!
In general, any shoe with a smooth leather sole that allows for easy turning and spinning is the best. Some rubber soles may also work well, but most (especially athletic shoes) will grip the floor and may cause ankle or knee injuries. Make sure that any rubber-soled shoes that you find are specifically designed for dancing and spinning. At the very least, the heavy weight and deep tread of most athletic shoes will made graceful spins extremely difficult, not to mention painful.
Some dance shoe options come from surprising sources. Bowling shoes are great for dancing, with their smooth leather soles and rubber heels that allow for quick stops when you lower your heel. Hush Puppies have lots of good support and a debatable sole; some dancers claim that they stick to the floor too much, others swear by the dance-ability of the shoe. (Of course, any rubber sole, once its worn down, will be more danceable.)
Once youve found a sole that works well for you, look for a comfortable shoe that fits well and doesnt slip and slide around on your foot. This often means choosing straps or laces to keep the shoe secure when youre dancing. While a strapped or closed shoe may not always be your first choice in style, it can make a big difference when youre dancing. Some women really like dancing in pumps; others find that a shoe thats not strapped onto their foot will fall off too easily, especially when trying to keep up with slick dance maneuvers. Its painful to constantly scrunch up your toes to keep your shoes on, and its bad for your feet. When you can trust your footwear to be there for you, you can focus your attention on great style and technique, instead of working so hard to keep those stylish but flimsy shoes from flying across the dance floor!
Personally, I prefer a snug fit in dance shoes, usually a half-size smaller than street shoe size. Always be sure to try shoes on and find what feels the best for you. Also, flats are very appropriate for ladies, and there are lots of really cute styles out there that dont have deadly heels. Okay, Ill acquiesce. Its true that a lot of women like to wear heels, and theres nothing wrong with that. (Youll even find a few heeled dance shoes in my closet!) But most swing dancers find that a flat shoe is more in tune with the low, jazzy style of swing dance, and will also allow for faster and more secure following on the more intricate figures.
Fortunately, theres a LOT of great dancing footwear out there. Personally, I like to have a few choices, since I know that Ill be dancing on a variety of surfaces. I go cheap for street dances and outdoor festivals on concrete, then a have nicer shoes for great wood floors that wont trash the shoes. Below are some good options, ranked by price range (since thats usually a determining factor!).
Economy I cant say enough about good thrift stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army and Savers! You cant imagine the number of great mens and womens shoes weve found at thrift and second hand stores, mostly in the $2 $7 price-range. A really expensive thrift store price may get up over $10. The downside is that you wont always find what youre looking for on your first shopping trip. You may have to stop in a number of times before your search is successful. You can also check out vintage shops such as Lulas or Vias Vintage, though they will be more expensive.
Mainstream/Mid-Range Fortunately for swing dancers, established dance apparel manufacturers have finally realized that we exist, and have a real need in footwear! Depending on your use, there are many styles available in reasonable price ranges. The manufacturers have been in the footwear for dancers industry for many years, so theres an implicit guarantee of good quality dance products. They know dancers feet! General categories include dance sneakers, jazz shoes, character shoes, and spectator shoes.
Dance Sneakers are flat shoes that are exactly what they sound like athletic-styled shoes designed for dancers. They typically come in black, though there are some fun colors out there. They are most often used for practice, classes and rehearsals, however some people swear by them for social dancing. They will have a suede, rubber or combination sole (may be split or solid) specifically designed for dancing, and some come with insoles for more comfort and support. Retails prices range from $50 $90, but you can get most of these shoes through wholesale, mail-order catalogs or online shops for $35 $65.
Jazz Shoes are flat shoes that have an oxford-style appearance and are usually black, though tan or other colors may be available. Theyre terrific for men because they look so much like mens dress shoes, but they sport all the features that a guy needs for dancing. Women, dont let that stop you from stocking up! These are fine shoes at really affordable prices that can be worn for classes, practice or social dancing. Different brands will have varying levels of support. The major style difference is in the soles. Split soles have the more durable sole surface only on the ball of the foot and the heel, with the softer leather in between; a full sole features the more durable sole continuous from the toe to the heel. Most jazz shoes retail at $30 $80. Catalogs sell them at $20 $60.
Leos Giordano Swing-Jazz Shoe is a cute black-and-white shoe thats available through retail dance shops and by mail-order. Its styled and constructed much like a typical jazz or tap shoe, but in a black-and-white leather (adorable!) that fits the attitude of swing dancers. Retail price is around $50 $60; mail order is around $35. A few people have said that this shoe didnt offer them the support they needed. Others absolutely love them, and find them totally comfortable and delightful to wear. This obviously falls into the personal choice and needs department. Check them out and see what you think!
Character Shoes are the Mary-Jane style black shoes that you wore for your high school musical. Its a sleek little black pump with an ankle strap and smooth leather sole. Some find that the sole is too slick, but are happy with the show once they rough them up a little. Some brands may offer them in other colors as well. They come in a variety of heel heights, from 1 2.5 and are usually all leather, though sometimes youll find a vinyl upper, which wont breath as well on your foot. Retail price: $35 $60. Catalog: $25 $45. Note: these are sometimes called tap shoes, and some models only come with tap attached. Order carefully!
Spectator Shoes are attractive black-and-white heeled shoes (about 2 heel) that lace up and fit the foot snugly. Also available in black-on-black and other colors, this shoe has a full-length foam padding insole, a hardwood heel and a steel shank for stability. This is a really great shoe for women who cant give up their heels! Retail price: $80; catalog price: $50.
Costly The true fanatic may want to go all out and spend their first fortune on dance shoes made specifically for swing and/or ballroom dancers. There are both good and bad reasons to make this choice. Good reasons include the fact that more costly shoes are typically of a higher quality, and are often more durable, comfortable and supportive for your hard-dancing feet. Bad reasons are that they are trendy or preferred by swing dancers; in fact you can often find a stylish, attractive, comfortable shoe in a lesser price range! You really need to look at your own dancing, and make the choice thats right for you.
Aris Allen The soles on these stylish, performance-oriented shoes are specially designed to let you feel the floor while being able to perform swing dance maneuvers without sticking as with ordinary athletic shoes or feeling like unbendable wood like normal dress shoes. The full line of Aris Allen colors and styles includes wedgies, Mary Janes and dance sneakers for women, plus wingtips, captoes, loafers and dance sneakers for men. Local dance shop Grand Jete carries Aris Allens, so you can go try them on to see what stye works best for you. They are also available online at www.dancestore.com. The wide variety of styles is reflected in the pricing, at anywhere from $35 to $90 per pair.
Bleyers Made in Germany, this is a popular swing dance shoe that comes in a variety of colors and styles and is heralded for its comfort, which is largely due to the removable insole (sold separately). In fact, other than the cute two-toned styling, they remind me of the sturdy, supportive shoes that nurses wear! The sole is made of an extremely durable, danceable rubber with a spin spot for easy turning. (Personally, Ive found that my own spin spot is about an inch off the one that they stamped onto the bottom of the shoe, but it doesnt seem to change the wear-ability or dance-ability any.) Some claim that the sole is so durable that it can be worn as a street shoe, but most dancers prefer to keep their Bleyers clean for dancing only. Check out the website: www.swingdanceshop.com to see the full line of Bleyers styles. (They have other great dance paraphernalia, too!) Prices range from about $70 $115, but youll also want to plan on buying insoles for another $20.
Ballroom Shoes Designed and styled specifically for ballroom dancers, there are a number of available brands of ballroom shoes, and several are quite suitable for swing dancers. Depending on the brand, you can find attractive flat styles for both men and women in solid and two-toned colors. For women, there are also wide variety of heeled styles, from enclosed, lace-up spectator styles with low heels to exotic, colorful, sparkly spike-heeled shoes. Expect to pay upwards of $100 $150 for ballroom shoes.
Where can I get them??? Okay, so I keep mentioning retail and mail-order pricing. Yep, theyre both available! There are a number of places to find all these great shoes. Some people feel that they really want or need to try a shoe on before they purchase them. Others really like the ease, convenience and anonymity of mail-order shopping. (In fact, most mail-order houses today are really flexible on their return policies, because they know that customers rely on the ability to return what doesnt work out for them. Sometimes Ill order an item in two sizes, keep the one that fits and return the other!) Here are some options:
The retail shops listed below are well-established distributors of dancewear and supplies, and are great places to try em on and see if you like em. Some distributors wont have regular hours, so youll have to call ahead for an appointment.
Grand Jete (retail shop), 975 Grand Ave, St Paul, 651-227-0331, www.grandjete.com. Mon Fri 10 5:30; Tues until 8 pm.
Larkin Dance Studio (retail shop), Plaza 3000, 3000 White Bear Avenue, Maplewood, 651-770-0764.
Step N Stretch (retail shop), Burnsville Market Place, County Road 42 at Hwy 35W, Burnsville, 952-882-8300.
For Feet First, Debby Filler (distributor), 1937 Ashland Ave, St Paul, 651-642-9636. By appointment.
Constantine Celebrity Ballroom Shoes (retail shop), 3403 Kilmer Lane North, Plymouth, 952-476-0058. M-F, 11-3:00 or by appointment evenings and Saturdays. They will also mail out a catalog.
Lots of dancers buy online. Also, some of the national sellers have catalogs available just call and ask to have one sent to you.
Capezio (no catalog), www.capeziodance.com
Dance Distributors (catalog) 800-33-DANCE, www.dancedistributors.com. Terrific prices lower than most and a huge selection!
Dancestore.com (no catalog), www.dancestore.com. Very popular with Lindy Hoppers.
Discount Dance Supply (catalog), 800-328-7107, www.discountdance.com
Leos Dancewear (no catalog), www.leosdancewear.com (no online order, but product line and search for retailers available)
SavoyStyle Swing Dance Shop 1-888-50-SAVOY, www.swingdanceshop.com. Very popular with Lindy Hoppers.
Step-n-Out (catalog), 800-335-2668, www.stepnout.com
eBay (catalog), 800-335-2668, www.ebay.com Once you know your preferred style and size, you can get some great bargains here!
One More Option Chroming Some people prefer to use or buy a pair of regular shoes that are really comfortable, then have the soles resurfaced with their favorite dance floor material such as suede, chrome leather (a kind of rough suede) or hard leather. A cheap version of this is to duct tape the soles, though this can peel and stick to the floor if its not done very carefully. Do a web search, and youll find information about how to chrome your own shoes. Or take your shoes to a good shoe repair place and have them re-soled.
Final Notes As you get ready to go shopping, consider what's best for you. Where do you dance most often - on a wide variety of surfaces or only on really good wood floors? Do you need more support or less support? What are your style preferences? Some dancers like to have two or three pair to choose from depending on where they are going dancing. An inexpensive she from a thrift store is great for grimy bars where customers spill beer and cigarette ashes on the icky tile-on-cement floor; a nicer pair can be kept just for the better well-ket wood floors, such as those found at Tapestry Folkdance Center and the Medina Ballroom.
In all cases, remember to keep your dance shoes clean and protected when youre not dancing in them. Even if your shoes have sturdier soles, its best to keep them clean from the dirt and grime from city streets, so its not tracked onto the dance floor. Especially in the winter, carry your dance shoes in a separate bag to and from classes, workshops, practice sessions and dance events. This not only keeps the shoes in better condition, it also protects wood dance floors from wear and tear.
No more excuses! Go find yourself a great pair of dance shoes!
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