What's the Deal with Dance Shoes?

By Joe Donato,
all rights reserved © 2011

       I often get these same recurring questions about dance shoes. “Hey Joe, what kind of shoes should I wear for the dance lesson? Where did you get your shoes? Why are you brushing them? Is all that really necessary, I’m not a professional for crying out loud”, etc. etc. Well, before I tell my story for the men, I decided to ask several women who have been dancing for several years and have made it a regular part of their lifestyle for their input. Here’s a compilation of what they had to say...

On Comfort? 

Best solution for comfort - wear Capezio Dance Sneakers whenever you can (such as lessons) - easy on the feet! I usually wear them when I go to a swing dance, since they're easier for bouncing around in. –“Ginger”


If wearing heels, low-heeled Cuban (wide) heels are easier on the feet than some of the taller, spiker types of heels. Save the tall spiky ones for glitzier occasions. –“Grace”


Where to buy them? 


Ask everyone in your class or socially where they got their shoes, share opinions and experiences, try on someone else's shoes! There are great selections on-line but some people need to try things on before making a commitment. You are looking for comfort, pivotability, stability and style. Women dance better when they feel beautiful and they dance their best when their shoes aren't in the way (sticky, wobbly, an eyesore) – “Monique”


Look in yellow pages for dance supplies; some of the dance shops carry ballroom shoes as well as ballet shoes. Call ahead to ask if they carry ballroom shoes before making the trip. –“Josephine”


Occasionally you can find ballroom shoes in regular shoe stores - I've bought a couple of pairs at B&S Shoe Store in Drexel Hill. –“Madame B.”


How hard is it to dance in heels, and do you recommend it?

I love wearing heals.  1 1/2"  and higher is what I prefer .  I just ordered new shoes with 3" heals. “Shirley”


It is quite easy to dance in heels since a follower walks backwards so often, heels are made for walking backwards, and not all heels are painful. In the end, women dance best when they feel beautiful and somehow heels equal fancy feet in our society. Imagine a ballroom competition in sneakers, how unattractive and cumbersome! –“Isadora”


Does the type of shoe depend on the dance floor?


I think different dances require different shoes and also different surfaces require different shoes. Dancing outside on cement is different from dancing on a wood floor versus a tile floor etc. I have even had to dance on carpet which makes for an interesting pivot! –“Cleo”

Bring 3 pairs of shoes with you no matter where you are dancing. It is good to change your shoes often if you are dancing for a long time 4-5 hours. It helps keep down the fatigue. I believe you can dance in anything that makes you feel like you want to dance with some exceptions:  Rubber soles and wedge heels do not work for dancing. –“Agnes”

How much should I expect to spend on dance shoes?

The money spent depends on all of the above. it is not unusual to spend $200 on a good pair of dance shoes. You have to consider how many miles you are going to put on them. dancing 4-5 hours several times a week makes for lots of time spent on those shoes, money well spent. –“Lola”


And for men, here’s my shoe story:


First off, the primary reason you buy dance shoes is so that you have a smooth leather or suede sole on the ball of your foot to help you turn and twist easily.  This is a very valuable skill when it comes to leading turns and adding rotation to your dance. The second reason you buy them is for the comfort factor. They tend to be far more comfortable than your average shoe. The third (and least important in my opinion) is for the look. As I always said “looking good is a bi-product of feeling good”. If you are comfortable, your woman will look good, and isn’t that really all the styling a man really needs?

Believe it or not, for the first six months to a year of dancing, I did not consider dance shoes a necessary investment for two reasons. First off, since I have very large and flat feet, I not only wear orthotics inserts in my shoes, but I also have to buy very wide shoes (14 EEEE, believe it or not!  That’s right. I’m not ashamed!) It is very difficult to walk into a shoe store and find a pair of shoes off the rack that will fit me. To this day, I still am not able to walk into a shoe store in a mall and find a pair of common sneakers my size. If I have this much trouble with regular shoes, what are my odds of finding dance shoes, let alone ones that will either give me proper arch support or have room for both my orthotics and my feet! In addition to this, I thought to myself, “why pay hundreds of dollars for something that I’m just going to wear out quickly anyway?”  My boss at the dance studio I was teaching in certainly encouraged me to invest in a pair, but instead, I settled for a generic pair of leather soled shoes that I found at Payless for $30.


Well, it turned out I was wrong on both accounts. When I halfheartedly found myself in a tiny, but reputable dance shoe store in New York city, I discovered that they had SIX different pairs of shoes for me to choose from. That’s right, six! For the first time in my life, I could choose from six different pairs of shoes. I bought two of them. After about two or three months, I had thought I wore out the first pair, but then I learned that I had actually only worn out the suede soles. That’s when I discovered that I could take them to any shoe store and they would replace the soles with quality chrome suede for about $15. After dancing regularly at least 3 times a week, for two years straight, I’ve only replaced the soles twice now, but I’m still wearing those same shoes I bought over two years ago!  They are EXTEMELY comfortable; almost like slippers.  And they aren’t fancy-shmancy flamboyant things with this large latin heel. They look like simple straightforward black shoes. My orthotics fit just fine in them, and they are so lightweight that I notice a significant difference in being able to lift my feet and stretch and travel in them. They were well worth the $125 price tag on them. I’ve already gone through two pairs of $50 sneakers, and another pair of black dress shoes in that time.


     Maintenance is quite simple. You buy one of these shoe brushes.  You can find them on ebay, or any dance shoe store. After dancing, the suede gets matted down and really smooth. You brush the smooth part to make the suede rough again.  It takes about 20 seconds, and makes your shoes as good as new again. Polish at your own desire.


So, my advice is; keep your feet happy, and your brain, your body, and your partner’s demeanor will all follow suit.


Check out this page to find links to reputable dance shoe suppliers that I endorse.



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