I’m a big believer in having the right tools for the job. Having danced a lot as a child, there was a uniform, and that included the right dance shoes for the job. Ballet needed basic ballet shoes, plus character shoes post grade 2, and then pointe shoes later on. Modern dance needed jazz shoes. And so on.
Once I started salsa it was a little more relaxed. I spent 2 ½ years doing a lot of technique training as well as moves and patterns, and in classes I started out dancing in worn out skechers trainers, then a lot of us transferred to jazz shoes. Because they were cheaper than dance shoes and did the job to help you feel the floor without worrying about falling over when spinning. But once I started going to freestyles I added in dance shoes to the mix – 2.5 inch heels. While class was easier in jazz shoes or dance sneakers, heels were much nicer for freestyle nights and were actually easier to spin in because there was no slacking off with balance and positioning to spin correctly.
But modern jive or ceroc is a different story when it comes to deciding what shoes to wear. It’s a lot more social, less technical, and a lot less dressy and out to impress than salsa.
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By the time I’d given up salsa and was doing ceroc, I was pretty much only dancing in 3 inch dance shoes*. I found them easy to dance in, and if I bought the right style in a good fit, they were comfortable. I could even do most of a weekender in them, interspersing them with dance sneakers which were much better for practising for long periods, and in the event of busking outside or dancing on a less than perfect floor. Heels were also the norm for most girls dancing at those times unlike today.
After I took up west coast swing, I changed to wcs sandals, with a cuban heel. They’re much comfier, are still pretty enough if that’s important to you in a dance shoe, and as I don’t wear dresses or skirts to dance, work well with trousers. After my dancing break (and in my non-dancing world never wearing heels any more), I continued dancing in the lower heels. I don’t know how I managed to dance in 3 inches 3 to 4 times a week! For starters, the sole width seems really narrow now – although maybe my feet got wider following pregnancy.
Lower heeled dance shoes now seem to be the norm at the various venues I’ve danced at over the last year. Whether it’s wcs sandals, or the new flat wcs boots. There’s also quite a few girls now dancing in basic flat canvas shoes (Toms) rather than dance shoes. So choosing dance shoes is really a personal thing for what suits you.
What not to wear for ceroc
It does amaze me the shoes that some people turn up to dance in. I can understand beginners coming and not knowing what will work well, but others who have been for a few weeks and then struggle with their shoe choice.
- Sky high stilettos – how to twist your ankle, especially if you’re not used to heels in everyday wear
- Shoes with no strap or method of keeping the shoe on – you really need a shoe that will stay on the foot
- Heavy trainers or clumpy boots – you’re going to struggle to turn on anything with a grippy sole, which could mean a twisted knee at worse, heavily trodden on partners, or having to clumpily step-step-step to move rather than an elegant gentle gliding step.
- Flip flops – I have danced with 2 guys over the years who wear flip flops. It works for them, but worries me as a partner, and I wouldn’t recommend something as flimsy as flip flops. Definitely not for a follower who’ll have to spin and turn lots.
- Bare feet – you won’t be able to turn easily and you’ll end up with someone standing on your feet.
What to wear
If you’re not going to wear dance shoes, then the sensible footwear is something that is comfortable, will stay on your foot and has a smooth sole. Some people even stick suede soles to the bottom of street trainers to turn them into dance shoes, I’ve also watched someone sticking duct tape on the soles of their trainers at the start of a dance night.
For me, wearing proper dance shoes is a no brainer.
Pros of wearing dance shoes:
- They help you carry yourself better
- You feel more like a dancer
- You can find different dance shoes to suit the style of dance or need
- There’s a lot of choice
- They have the most suitable sole for most dance floors – usually suede for girls shoes, or suitable dance sneaker soles
- If wearing heels, they have reinforced shanks in the soles
- You don’t ruin your normal street shoes
- They’re made for the purpose of dance with the right cushioning and padding on the soles so they’re more comfortable to wear for long periods
- There’s a price range for everyone depending on the style you want
Cons of wearing dance shoes
- You can’t wear suede soled shoes outdoors
- They will be a cost vs wearing street shoes
- It can be hard to get the sizing right because all brands sizing is different
- Depending on the shoe and how often you dance, they do wear out – I’m quite heavy on spins so my soles need a lot of brushing. Suede can also be wrecked by one bad dance floor – sticky/wet
- Depending on the materials used they might need some wearing in if you’re not used to wearing them.
- The dance sneakers aren’t always the most attractive, especially if wearing a skirt
If you’re convinced (and you should be), here’s some options for where to get shoes from.
The world is your oyster to buy shoes. Most large towns have a dancewear shop – our local haberdashery shop bizarrely sells dance shoes, although a very limited choice. If you can’t find a dance shop near you, then the internet has lots of options.
From buying directly from manufacturers (Freed, Superdance or Roch Valley are good brands but more pricy, and offer more traditional latin dance shoes), to buying from ebay, keep a watch on postage costs. Quite often ebay sellers are in Hong Kong, so shoes can take a long time to arrive plus make sure you check the sizing (ideally by measurement). See if you can find someone with a similar pair of shoes you can try on to check the style and fit before ordering. Light in the Box* and Terrier.net have great selections of shoes – from heels to dance sneakers – with prices around £20. It’s worth buying a couple of pairs at their prices.
Do think about the heel style that you want (tango shoes tend to have thinner heels, for modern jive a flare heel is better), and ideally go for an easy buckle which just needs clipping over instead of undoing/doing up. If you’re starting on heels, a 2.5 inch is a good start point, you can move up to 3 inch. Search terms you want to look for are latin dance shoes, salsa dance shoes or wcs dance shoes to get the most options coming up.
I’ve bought from Rotate UK, and Dance Shoes Online who had good service. For wcs sandals try Standout Dancewear – they sell at Ceroc Escape weekenders and other events as well as online.
Bear in mind, if you buy a pair that don’t suit, dance shoes aren’t difficult to sell on through your dance venue, Facebook or ebay. If buying online, do check sizing first because you don’t want your toes hanging off the end, or with lots of spare sole to trip over. I generally go down a size or half size from my street size depending on the brand.. But most companies will give advice on sizing if you need it.
Dance sneakers or jazz shoes
Look out for Capezio or Bloch . Check out sizing and reviews because each pair come up differently. I recommend split soles (they can take a bit of getting used to and strengthening the instep to avoid initial aches) as they make the shoe lighter and more flexible.
Mens dance shoes
Obviously, mens dance shoes aren’t my area of expertise, but dance sneakers are popular, as are basic ballroom or swing shoes.
Nowadays quite a few people are dancing in Toms*. This is more prevalent in WCS although they are becoming more popular on the modern jive dancefloor. Personally I think they’re a choice for comfort. I’ve never danced in them, but I imagine they’re more akin to the feeling of the floor you’d have with jazz shoes than proper dance shoes. Or like dancing in a pair of slippers. I think they make people a bit sloppy with their footwork, but if you want a casual pair of shoes, then they might be an option to look at.
What shoes do you dance in? Where would you recommend people buy from?