When you're just starting out, the world of dance shoes can be overwhelming. You may even be wondering why you can’t dance in the shoes you already have. After all, what’s the difference? A heeled shoe is a heeled shoe…right? And what makes a good pair of ballroom dance shoes? There are so many options, from colour to heel to style…let us help you decode. And find that perfect dance shoe for your level.
STREET SHOES V. DANCE SHOES
First off, let’s talk street shoes and why you shouldn’t dance in them. If you’re just starting out, wearing street shoes for your first lesson or two until you can get a pair of dance shoes is possible – but a common mistake is to wear a shoe with a rubber sole. A rubber soled-shoe against a wood floor does not make for gliding, smooth steps. A rubber-soled shoe (sneakers, mostly) are designed with lots of grip in mind. Whether you’re snaking across the basketball court like LeBron or Kobe, or out for a run, those rubber soles will make sure you don’t slide. And while that’s perfect for other sports, not so for ballroom dancing. In dancesport you need to be able to glide across the floor. A rubber sole will not only inhibit movement but may also be dangerous; image trying to spin in a shoe that is sticking to the floor. Your ankles, knees, hips, etc. may not thank you. If you must use street shoes to start, use a pair with leather soles (some ladies evening shoes even have felt on the ball of the foot).
If you don't have any leather-soled shoes, then you should invest in a good pair of dance shoes. You’ll be happy you did. Dance shoes have been designed, obviously, to help you dance. The sole is made of suede or leather (though leather is more common in Argentine Tango shoes, while suede is the norm for ballroom and Latin). Suede soles offer the perfect amount of slip and slide; they make is possible for you to hold your position securely while also allowing you to glide to the next step. (Note: for all shoe images, click on the product name to go to the product page)
HEELS & BALANCE
The height of your dance shoe heel is particularly an issue for women. Men’s ballroom dance shoes are typically 1-inch and wide, while men’s Latin dance shoes are a maximum of a 2-inch Cuban heel (block heel). Women’s heels range from 1.5 inches to 4-inch stilettos. Ladies, while you may walk in a 4-inch stiletto, if you are new to ballroom dancing do not buy a dance shoe of the same height. There is a world of difference between walking in stilettos and dancing in them. For one thing, half your steps are taken backwards.
It’s best to get used to the movement in a lower heel. As you grow more confident in your steps and progress, you can always upgrade. Gentlemen, if you’re not comfortable in a 2-inch heel for Latin dance, start with a ballroom shoe and move on from there.
Another point to consider about heels is that because dance shoes are designed with dance in mind, the heel is placed differently than in street shoes. This is because in ballroom and Latin dance we want to maintain something called “forward poise”, where the weight is more over the balls of the feet. Dance shoes are built to help with this. As a result, the balance of the shoe is different and can offset your own balance slightly if you're not used to it. If you are unable to easily walk in a pair of dance shoes dancing in them will be even more difficult.
For ladies, we recommend that you start with a heel of 1 to 1.5 inches in height. You may also want to begin with a Cuban heel (block heel) or thicker heel before advancing. Practicing in a 1.5-inch heel will allow you to get a bit of height, while also remaining closer to the ground. This in turn will allow you to get the feel of your shoes and the movements you're learning. You can gradually increase the height as you advance through your lessons. All of our dance shoes have customizable heels.
Fit is hugely important. More so than in street shoes. When you buy a pair of street shoes, be they casual or evening wear, it doesn’t matter if they are a little too big – you can always add an insole. This is not the case with dance shoes.
Your dance shoes must have a snug fit. If your shoes are too big, your feet will move around inside them. This movement will result in a loss of balance making it much easier for you to trip and injure yourself. You should be able to wiggle your toes, while not being able to slide your foot around inside the shoes. Make sure that the shoe moves with your foot – it should feel like an extension of your body, not an addition. Snug, but comfortable is what you're looking for here. Dance shoes should be comfortable and flexible to allow you to wear them for long periods of time without any pain.
BALLROOM V. LATIN
Let’s take a minute to decode. At the beginning of your dance adventure (and it is an adventure, isn’t it? A wonderful adventure!) the difference between “ballroom”, “smooth”, “rhythm”, and “Latin” may be confusing. What are the differences? And do you need 4 different pairs of shoes??
(Well, really. Can you ever have too many pairs of dance shoes? Right. That’s what I thought.)
There are two divisions in the world of ballroom dance: American Style and International. “American” is social. When you learn to Rumba or Waltz in American, this is what people dance socially, though there it can also be competitive. “International” is exclusively competitive and the style of all dances will be different.
Smooth is American equivalent of International Ballroom. Rhythm is the American equivalent of Latin. “Ballroom dance” is the umbrella term. As in:
Person A: So what do you do?
Me: I’m a Ballroom dancer.
For ladies dancing Smooth/Ballroom, you will be looking for a closed-toe shoe. For gentlemen, a 1-inch heel. For ladies dancing Rhythm/Latin, you will be looking for a sandal or a peep-toe. Gentlemen, you will be looking for a two-inch Cuban heel. (Click on the product name to go to the product page)
As a final note about style, ladies if you are looking for a competition shoe you will need one that is flesh toned. Sparkle is permitted, but the body of the shoe is generally neutral. Otherwise, go crazy. We can make you Dorothy’s red slippers if you want ;)
To recap: when you’re buying your first pair of ballroom or Latin dance shoes you need to consider the sole, heel, fit, and style of dance. The shoes a dancer selects is one of the most important decisions they make since they are a dancer’s most important tools. Your first pair of dance shoes is an exciting investment – and a high quality pair of shoes will help advance your dancing. At iLoveDanceShoes, many of our shoes are customizable in colour, heel height, and material to better reflect your personality and your dancing.
Let us help you find that perfect fit.
And if you need a bit more information on Latin shoes, Ballroom shoes, or practice shoes, we’ve got you covered. Check out the following articles: