Ever had a question about your dance shoes? The answer is probably here!
Buying dance shoes
Q1: “Do I need dance shoes?”
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If you’re planning on dancing regularly (even if 1-2 times a month), dance shoes will make your life significantly easier. Most people don’t realize how big the difference is until they try dance shoes for the first time.
Dance shoes help you:
- Balance better,
- Turn without stress on your joints,
- ‘Feel the floor’ more, and
- Manipulate the foot better.
Most dance shoes have a suede sole – though others have synthetic soles (like jazz shoes) or smooth, leather soles. Dance shoe soles are designed for typical dance floors to allow you to get the right amount of ‘grip’ without stressing your joints.
Almost all dance shoes feature flexible soles that allow your foot to move and point.
Typically, most ladies’ dance shoes also have straps around the ankle that help hold your foot in place. – which gives a lot more stability.
Q2: “I’m vegan. Are there non-suede/leather dance shoes?”
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Yes! There are vegan dance shoes. You’ll likely have to order online, but there are sites that will let you maintain your conscience and buy the shoes.
Some brands that offer vegan dance shoes include:
- Very Fine Shoes (Latin and Ballroom)
- Ethical Wares (Mostly jazz; some latin/ballroom)
- International Dance Shoes (Latin and Ballroom)
- Step One Dance Shoes (Latin and Ballroom)
- Cynthia King (Vegan ballet slippers)
Q3: “What can I use until I have the chance to get dance shoes?”
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Until you get proper dance shoes, try using a securely-fitting (preferably with straps) shoe that has a smooth, slippery-ish sole. If you have a leather sole, that’s even better.
Try to also avoid super-stiff or heavy shoes. Work boots and big, clunky shoes make it harder to dance properly.
Q4: “Is there a difference between the cheap and expensive dance shoes?”
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Not usually. Some studios have a supplier that they swear by, but it’s not always a recipe for success.
I’ve had $300 dance shoes that gave me blisters and left me completely off-balance. I’ve also had $50 shoes that were my absolute favorite pair and lasted for years! Some people feel that the quality of expensive brands are worth it. I personally find very little difference overall.
The most important thing with dance shoes is to try them on and walk around. The right shoe should not give you any pain, and you should not feel awkward walking in them at all. Unless you know the style you are buying, ordering online is very risky – especially for heels. Ballet and jazz shoes tend to be a bit more forgiving.
Some people swear by the blister-break-in period, but almost all of my favourite shoes have never given me a blister – even in the beginning.
Stick to what you can afford, and try on shoes until you find the ‘right’ pair.
Q5: “What kind of dance shoes do I need?”
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Depending on the style of dance, your genre will have a specific shoe that is ‘standard.’ Some genres are more flexible than others:
- West Coast Swing – Women: Boots, Toms, Sandals; Men: Ballroom, Toms, Sneakers
(See this WCS footwear article)
- Lindy Hop – Women and Men: Keds or Aris Allens
(See this Lindy footwear article)
- Latin (Social) – Women: Latin heels or dance sneakers; Men: ballroom oxfords or dance sneakers
- Tango – Women: Tango or other heels; Men: Tango or Ballroom shoes
(Tango article for women, Unisex)
- Kizomba – Women: heels or sneakers; Men: sneakers
- Zouk – Women: Heels, sneakers, jazz shoes, ballet slippers; Men: ballroom shoes or sneakers
- Ballroom, Smooth – Women: Ballroom heels or practice shoes; Men: Ballroom shoes
- Ballroom, Latin – Women: Latin heels; Men: Cuban-heel oxfords
(Article for women)
Suede sole, 2″ – 3.5″
The Latin heel is the standard women’s dance shoe across many genres. Ballroom Latin, Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, and Hustle all use this shoe. It is an option for Brazilian Zouk dancers as well, and a Tango dancer can get away with it. Standard heel heights range from 2 to 3.5 inches.
Suede sole, no heel
Dance boots have been gaining massive popularity as an alternative to the traditional West Coast Swing sandal. Recently, they’ve also become a popular option for Zouk and other dancers looking for a stylish alternative to jazz shoes and sneakers.
Jazz shoes enjoy quite a bit of popularity in Brazilian Zouk, and are occasionally used in other genres. They usually come in beige or black, and in a variety of styles. Some can look quite interesting! They usually have a synthetic sole and are quite durable.
Suede sole, short, thick heel
Dance Sandals – Low Heel
This is the standard West Coast Swing shoe. It is usually uncommon in other dance styles. It’s constructed similarly to a traditional Latin heel, but has a thick, square heel.
Suede sole; stiletto heel
Very similar to the traditional Latin heel, except the heel and styling tends to be far more delicate. The stiletto nature makes balance more of a challenge in some genres. While this is a Tango-specific shoe, it can be used across Latin dances.
Suede sole; no heel
Ballet slippers are usually the domain of solo dancers, but they enjoy a fair amount of popularity in Brazilian Zouk. Occasionally, dancers in other genres will use them for social dancing – especially if they have tired feet. They are less popular than jazz shoes for social dancing.
Suede sole; 2″-3.5″ heel
These are the standard-issue Ballroom competition heels for Smooth dances. However, they’re not used for Latin competitive dancing. They are almost unheard of on the social floor for any style.
No heel – 2.5″
Heels tend to be low to non-existent in Lindy Hop, while Blues and Balboa have a slightly higher heel. Aris Allen is the most common brand for these type of shoes, but other dance brands may carry them as well.
Synthetic sole; no heel
There are many styles of dance sneakers for both men and women. They range from very clunky hip-hop and Jazz sneakers to sleek, smooth evening shoes. They’re very common in any social Latin styles for men, and have a growing fanbase among women. They’re not as common in Swing-genre dances, but are also growing in popularity among men.
Toms are technically a street shoe, but have a sole that tends to work well on a variety of dance surfaces. West Coast Swing dancers use them a lot during social dancing. Many genres use Toms for casual social dancing and outdoor events. They’re not a formal dance shoe, and prevent you from pointing your toes properly.
Keds aren’t a dance shoe, but many Lindy dancers seem to favor them. They’re cheap and great for outdoor dancing. However, they’re not ideal for any dances with a large amount of spinning because the sole is stickier than most other dance shoe styles – including Toms.
Popular among Lindy Hop gentlemen, the Aris Allen is a more traditionally-styled shoe – but designed for dancing. They’re easier to dance in than a normal street shoe.
Suede sole; no heel
Ballroom Oxford/Men’s Tango Shoe
Lower to the floor than a Cuban heel ballroom shoe, the standard Ballroom Oxford and men’s tango shoe are almost indistinguishable from each other. They tend to be the ‘standard’ men’s dance shoe.
Sole varies; no heel
Specialty Men’s Shoes
While not for Ballroom and Latin competitive dancers, specialty men’s dance shoes are very common for social dancing across styles. Many designs are in between a more formal ‘Oxford’ look and a sneaker, so people find them versatile for dressing up or down.
Suede sole; up to 2″ heel
Ballroom Oxford (Cuban Heel)
This shoe is one of the few options that has lift in the heel for men. It’s standard-issue for ballroom and Latin. Some social dancers also use these across many dance styles.
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Q6: “How high should the dance shoe heel be?”
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The answer is: whatever you are comfortable dancing in. If it’s your first pair, go for a lower heel height that you can dance in all night and workshop all day.
Part of this depends on what you are used to wearing, and how well you can balance. If you are new to heels, get a lower training pair. It’s not worth sacrificing dance quality for a higher heel.
Over time, you will adjust to the heels. Then, you can move up to a higher amount and train on those.
Most of the time, the pretty 3.5 inch heels are not worth the painful feet. I have some of these, but I use them for an hour before I switch over to my lower, ‘comfy’ heels or flats.
I generally switch out of the ‘pretty heels’ around the time my hair has generally turned into a frizzy poof and I’m no longer concerned about taking nice photos.
Q7: “How tight should the dance shoe be?”
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Dance shoes should feel snug (but not painful) when you wear them. For heels, your toe should be basically at the end. This allows you to get a nice point on the toes without a bunch of extra shoe at the bottom.
Almost all dance shoes stretch. When I say stretch, I don’t mean ‘ease out slightly’; I mean stretch. I’ve had dance shoes go up almost an entire size – especially when they’re a softer leather shoe.
I worked in a normal shoe store for 4 years. Your dance shoes will stretch far more than what you are used to in street shoes.
Q8: “If I am building a dance shoe collection, what would you recommend having?”
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Well, it will vary by dance genre – but for a mainly Zouk/Latin dancer, this is what I would recommend:
1 pair of studio flats (jazz, ballet)
1 pair of dance sneakers or dance boots
1 pair of street shoes you can dance outside on concrete with (TOMS are great)
1 pair of low-mid height, comfortable, neutral or black heels
1 pair of ‘fun’ high heels.
My WCS side would recommend:
1 pair ‘typical’ Westie shoes in neutral or black
1 pair dance boots
1 pair regular shoes you can dance in
1 pair ‘fun’ Westie shoes
Using your dance shoes
Q9: “What do I do if I step in water with my suede-bottom shoes?”
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Ah, yes. You go to the water cooler, and then realize you just stepped in the big, wet spot with your lovely suede shoes.
This sucks. Big time.
There’s no real perfect fix other than changing your shoes. However, I’ve found spinning on dry carpet to be a pretty good way to get out most of the water in the shoe.
A dance with a friend who takes their time can also help dry out the shoes on the floor.
Q10: “How long do dance shoes last?”
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Depends on the shoe, your foot, and how much you’re dancing. I can go through a pair of ballet flats in 4 months. Heels will usually last me at least 6 months of intensive use for fabric, a year or more for leather.
Part of the reason that my shoes don’t last very long is that I have a wide front-foot, which means that the straps around the toe and ball of the foot give out first. In ballet shoes, I’m usually slightly off the ‘pad’ of the foot – which means the ball of my foot works straight through the leather.
I have another friend where her toes go through the end of the ballet shoe, rather than the bottom. Foot shape can have a very big impact on where and how fast your shoes wear out.
For people who are occasional or moderate social dancers, shoes can last for years.
Q11: “Can I wear dance shoes outside?”
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Well, of course you can – but you shouldn’t. You will destroy your shoes far faster – especially if you get caught in the rain or have to walk on dirt. Some studios may not let you wear them inside on their floors if you wear them outside.
Keep your dance shoes for indoor use only.
Q12: “What dance shoes do you bring when travelling?”
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This depends on how long I’m going, and how big my luggage is.
If I’m travelling carry-on only, I try to only take 2 pairs of shoes plus any ‘performance’ shoes.
Usually, this means 1 pair of flats/sneakers/boots for comfort and workshops, and 1 pair of comfortable, ‘evening’ shoes. If I have a fancy outfit and the *perfect* shoe, I may bring a third pair.
Most men I know bring 1-2 pairs, usually at least 1 of which is a formal dance shoe.
Q13: “What dance shoes should I never dance in?”
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Athletic sneakers, or any shoe with a sticky sole. You’re asking for knee injuries. Zumba shoes are NOT built for social dancing. They don’t turn well!
Q14: “Why aren’t my dance shoes working on my venue’s floor?”
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Traditional dance shoes are typically designed for clean, studio floors. If you are dancing in a venue with sticky floors or in a nightclub, your dance shoes may not be the best fit.
For stickier floors, I generally use a pair of leather-bottomed shoes or slippery street shoes. I’ve also found that synthetic-sole jazz shoes or dance sneakers can work well.
It’s not ideal, but on those floors it works better for social dancing than suede bottoms.
Caring for your dance shoes
Q15: “How do I take care of dance shoes?”
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I always spray mine with an appropriate all-protector (just like street shoes) and keep them in a dance shoe bag. Your shoes will probably come with one.
Storing shoes in plastic isn’t usually the best. It can make your shoes stinky faster. A cloth shoe bag is better. Shoe bags also stop satin or soft leather from getting scratched.
Q16: “My dance shoes used to have good grip, but now they’re really slippery. What can I do?”
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If you have suede bottom shoes, I’d recommend getting a shoe brush. It helps you ‘brush out’ the suede, which can give you more grip if you’re dancing on a slippery floor.
If you don’t have a brush and your shoes become slippery, try spinning on a clean, textured concrete surface. I use my back patio. The suede perks right up again after that.
Depending on your shoes and the floor you usually dance on, you may have to ‘brush out’ your shoes quite often.
Q17: “What can I do about super-smelly dance shoes?”
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A good preventative measure is wearing shoes with clean feet or nylons. It doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it can slow them down.
If your shoes are already smelling, you can try a few things:
- Putting them in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight
- Put baking soda or kitty litter in a tied-up sock, and stuff it in your shoes
- Use a commercial shoe deodorizer or cleaner
- Put fabric softener sheets inside your shoes
- Put a fresh lemon or orange peel inside your shoes
- Spray the inside with a combination of water and vinegar
- Swab the inside with rubbing alcohol.
Q18: “My dance shoe heels are worn down. What can I do?”
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If you can, get heel protectors for your shoes right when you buy them. It’s much easier to replace these than the heel itself.
Another option is to add suede to the bottoms of your heels when you buy them. This helps prevent the plastic cap from wearing down.
If your heel is already worn down, the best thing to do is to take it in to a shoe repair shop and get them to replace the heel cap.