Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday's Opinion: The Benefits Of Dance Shoes and How To Buy Them

A dance-themed opinion today!  This week:

 Ballroom Dance Shoes

I often get these two questions when I teach new students:

1) What kind of shoes should I wear?


2) Should I get special dance shoes?

Dancing, like any other physical activity, requires certain equipment to keep you comfortable for extended periods of time.  With the clothing, there's nothing to worry about: you simply wear something practical that you easily move around in, be it casual or fancy.

But when it comes to shoes, that's a completely different story.

To beginner dancers, I tell them not to worry about buying new shoes; there's really no need for dance shoes when all you're doing are the basics.  Just wear something you already have at home. 
Sneakers and dress shoes work pretty well
The best non-dance shoes to wear is something light and comfortable that won't easily slip off the foot.  Ideally you'd want something with a smooth and slippery bottom.  Dress shoes work really well, and so do sneakers, although sneakers tend to grip the floor a little too much, which can making turning difficult.

Avoid clunky shoes and flip flops!
Avoid heavy boots or anything with a rubber sole that can leave black marks on the floor. And especially avoid flip flops or clunky shoes.  I cringe every time I see flip flops on the dance floor; they mean difficult and clumsy dancing ahead with that person.  I remember a dancer coming in to our intermediate class once a few years back, wearing wooden thong sandals, with a thick and heavy 2-inch heel.  Pretty sandals, but man!  We were dancing cha cha, which involves lots of steps, and you could hear those clunky sandals for the entire lesson.  CLUNK! CLUNK-CLUNK-CLUNK! CLUNK-CLUNK!  What was worse, the shoes were inhibiting her ability to dance, so the timing of her clunking was completely off, and her steps were clumsy and slow.  She might have done all right if she had taken those shoes off, but she ended up having an unnecessarily difficult time instead.  Let this story be a word of warning to all dancers: Wear... Appropriate....Shoes!

With that being said, what's the big deal about dance shoes?  Well!

Technique is crucial the more advanced you get
In the beginning dance shoes aren't necessary: you're too focused on learning the basic moves to concentrate on technique.  But the more advanced you get, the more important technique becomes.  And when I say technique, I mean that you must become more comfortable with keeping your weight forward on the ball of your feet.  You use the ball for turning and for balance; your steps will not feel good or even look good if you don't rely on that part of your foot.

You need to be able to point your toe
Good technique also involves the ability flex and point your toes, and maintaining
constant contact with the floor in some way shape or form, be it a slight brush with your toe, or a full step that takes your weight.

All this technique is virtually impossible to do in a regular shoe.  Regular shoes have thick, inflexible soles that are frequently meant to grip the floor.  They are made for walking, or for appearances, but certainly not for dancing.
Dance shoes are built specifically for dancing.  They are meant to endure constant, prolonged movement.  They are flexible, with thin suede soles that allow for ease of turns and the ability to feel contact with the floor.  By wearing dance shoes, you can not only apply good technique to your steps, but you also are more aware of how well you're applying your footwork, therefore allowing you to advance and improve your dancing.

Never had to resort to this!
Have I mentioned yet that dance shoes are comfortable?  They're built for endurance as well as flexibility, so you're able to dance the night away!  You can even last a while in 3-inch heels!  Because of their comfort, I've gotten into the habit of wearing dance shoes at weddings; as a result I am usually the last women still wearing her heels at the end of the night.

So, to answer the two questions I wrote at the beginning of this article, yes, you should get dance shoes, but only if you're starting to go beyond the basics and are interested in improving your dancing.  If you're only just starting you shouldn't worry about it, but instead wear comfortable shoes that aren't heavy, grippy, or clunky.

Now, once it's been decided that my students are going to get dance shoes, I frequently get this follow-up question: what kind of dance shoes should you get and where can you get them?  So here's a little extra info for you to help you find the right pair for you:

Kinds Of Shoes:
shoes that bend like this have no arch support
First off, make sure it's ballroom dance shoe.  There are some ballet and jazz shoes out
there that resemble ballroom shoes, but really aren't.  A ballroom dance shoe is generally made of leather, and contains a steel half-arch that allows you to point your toe without losing your arch support.  Ballet and jazz shoes are split-soled and can fold in half easily,  thus they have no arch support .  Avoid those.
Some people prefer to use dance sneakers for dancing and I admit I'm one of them; they're great for a long night of Swing dancing.  But I don't recommend using them all the time.  Dance sneakers either have too much flexibility (Jazz) or too little (general).  They also tend to be cumbersome for any dance other than swing.

Some people prefer dance sneakers

There are three types of ballroom shoes: Standard, Latin, and Practice. 
Men's standard

Standard is what the guys typically wear; they look like black dress shoes.  For the ladies, standard is a closed toe shoe with a heel that's meant for traveling backwards; they're ideal for the smooth dances, such waltz and foxtrot.

Ladie's Latin

Latin shoes for the ladies are open-toed sandals with a 1- to 3-inch heel.  They're perfect for Latin dances such as Rumba and Salsa, but they also work great for all the other dance styles.  If you're only getting one pair, I would recommend a Latin shoe.

Practice Shoes
For the guys, a Latin shoe means having what's called a Cuban Heel-- a 1.5-inch heel that's only really used in competitions.  I recommend just getting a Standard shoe instead.

Practice shoes don't look or feel any different for the guys, but for a ladies' shoe, it means something with a low heel that kind of resembles a man's standard shoe, but with a more flexible outside.  These shoes are practical and comfortable, and are great for Swing and general dancing.

Brands And What To Look For:
When you go shopping for dance shoes, you are mainly looking for comfort and ease of movement.  A ballroom shoe should feel snug, like a slipper.  The toes should be flush to the edge, and your foot shouldn't slide around inside.  A good rule to follow is to select a shoe that's at least half a shoe size smaller than what you would normally wear.

For a ladies' high-heeled shoe, there should be enough cushion in the front to keep you comfortable.  If you're trying on a shoe and it feels really hard right off the bat, don't get it.  A good high-heeled shoe shouldn't make you feel like you're wearing high heels; it should feel natural.

There are many different shoe brands out there, and you should pick the one you like best.  For myself, there are three brands I like:

1) Very Fine Dance Shoes: This is my go-to brand, and ideal for those who are buying shoes for the first time.  They're cheap for dance shoes ($60-$100), but they're easy to break in, and come in a wide range of options, including customizable options.  They don't last very long, however.  As a teacher I end up destroying them in a matter of months, but for the average dancer they might last for a good couple of years
2) Stephanie Dance Shoes: I've tried this brand about once or twice, and they're pretty decent.  Like Very Fine, they're a cheaper shoe, but they last a tiny bit longer than the other brand.  However, they are also a little more difficult to break in (my pair gave me blisters for a couple of weeks before it became comfortable enough).  But they are decent shoes that are affordable and stay comfortable for hours.
3) Supadance: This is a higher-end brand.  They're more expensive (the cheapest is easily over $100), but they can last for years, even decades.  These shoes were built for competitors, so they can withstand constant abuse.  They are also very comfortable.  My mother, a very experienced dancer, stands by this brand.

Buying A Shoe:
 go to a dance store first
There are two ways to buy a shoe: either online or at a dance supply store.  If it's your first time buying a pair, I would go to a physical store so you can try on different styles, sizes, and brands, with the help of a salesperson who understands what you need.  You will always find a wider range of choices online, however, and frequently at lower prices.  The only problem with purchasing a pair online is that it takes time for the company to deliver it, and you're ordering a shoe without trying it on first, which is always a bit of a gamble.  So when you're purchasing online, make sure you try the shoes on immediately upon delivery, and make sure you try them on soft carpet; carpeting won't scuff the shoes, so if they don't fit well, you can return them and get your money back.

So there you go!  This is quite a lot of information, so I hope it's useful.  If you need more information, or if you need places to purchase some shoes, here are some links:

Places Where I Like Buy Online:
My Favorite Dance Store In Connecticut:

Additional Helpful Websites:

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