What is the difference between ballroom dance shoes and regular shoes?
Classic Ginger Rogers Look
The biggest difference is the soles. ballroom shoes have a thin, suede sole. This allows the shoes to glide on the dance floor, with just the right amount of grip. ballroom shoes are also very flexible, allowing the movement necessary to show off your dance techniques. In competition, women should wear tan or flesh-colored shoes, to extend the look of the leg, and not call too much attention to the feet.
The three basic types are Latin, Standard (also called “Court” or “Modern”), and Practice shoes. Shoes should be selected not only for appearance, but for comfort, support, performance, and protection. Some women prefer the closed-toe shoes, because they offer some protection against being stepped on, and they shield your toenails from your partner’s shoes.
If you buy a pair of insoles, you can probably double the number of hours you can dance in comfort. The best insoles are the ones sold for running shoes. Avoid the “gel” kinds, because their squishy nature voids much of the precision contact you need with the floor.
There are certain shoes that are made specifically for certain styles of ballroom. In Ladies’ styles, the strappy shoes with the spiky heels are for Latin/Rhythm and the closed-toe shoes with the lower heels are for Standard/Smooth. In Mens’ styles, the slight heel and pointed toe are for Latin/Rhythm and the low heel, more normal-looking men’s shoes are for Standard/Smooth. There are several variations within each style that will allow you to pick the right one for your own feet.
Latin shoes for women are typically an open-toed sandal with a heel from 1 to 3 inches high. The standard heel height is 2.5 inches. If high heels hurt, try adding arch supports. If you only buy one type of shoe, it is generally recommended that you start with a latin sandal.
Men’s latin shoes have what is called a Cuban Heel that is 1.5 inches high. Most men only wear latin shoes for competition, and you do not see men wearing them often for social dancing outside of the ballroom.
Standard shoes for women are closed-toed pumps. The heel is positioned more centrally under the foot than a latin sandal’s, in order to ease backward movement.
Men’s standard shoes are usually a black oxford-style lace-up, with a heel comparable to regular dress shoes. Men, if you only purchase one type of shoe, it should be the standard.
Practice shoes are optional. Women’s practice shoes resemble a man’s standard shoe with a higher heel. You can also buy dance sneakers that have suede soles.
Dance shoes are typically made and sold in European sizes, which are generally 1.5 sizes smaller than American sizes. This is not always true, so check size charts carefully if you are ordering online.
Answers to a Few Main Questions
When you are first starting out in your ballroom training and haven’t yet made the choice to specialize in a specific style or you just plan to dance socially, it’s good to pick out what is known as a 10-Dance Shoe. 10-Dance shoes are considered to be a nice combination-style shoe. For men, they generally have no heel and are a smooth leather look. They’re very comfortable and quickly form to the man’s foot. For ladies, they generally have a moderate heel, a closed toe and can have a T-strap or other variations. These shoes are called 10-Dance shoes because they can be used for any of the 10 International style dances. (This also can encompass American styles, but because International styles have been around longer, the name is derived from there.)
How Will They Feel?
If this is your first pair of ballroom shoes, you will quickly learn why they are superior to dancing in a regular pair of pumps or men’s dress shoes. Your feet will be well-supported and you will find that you have a wider range of motion in them. The shank of a ballroom shoe does not extend all the way to the tip like in a regular pair of walking shoes so you will be able to flex and point to your fullest range of motion. As you continue in your dance training, you may find that you would like to specialize in either Latin/Rhythm or Standard/Smooth and you will probably want a pair of shoes to support that style; however, in the meantime, the 10-Dance shoe will serve you well.
I’ve worn them a few times and they’ve gotten so slippery. Can I do anything to treat them?
You should invest in a shoe brush. Shoe brushes cost almost nothing and they can work wonders on the soles of your shoes. If you have worn the suede down a little, just take the brush and scrub it back and forth a few times along the part of the shoe where the ball of your foot tends to go. If you’re in men’s shoes, scrub the heel gently as well. This is a good temporary fix but after several months of dancing in them, you will find that scrubbing doesn’t do the trick anymore and the soles are shiny. You can take the shoes to be re-soled at a specialty shop or a cobbler’s shop. It costs about $25 to do it so it’s a worthwhile investment to get several more months out of the shoes instead of buying new ones.
Heel Protectors perform three important tasks: they protect the floor, they give you more traction, and they protect the heels of your shoes. The little heel tips on your shoes wear out quickly, and replacing them will cost $5 or more. When they wear out, they expose the nail that attaches them to the shoe. Plastic heel protectors will prolong the life of your shoes (and your investment.)
Shoe Brush: Suede soles lose their nap after a couple of months (more often if you wear them outside of the ballroom). Buy a steel-bristled shoe brush with a handle to refresh the nap in your shoes. These are available at dance shoe vendors, or you can buy a steel “file brush” from a hardware store (the kind used to clean the grit out of files). Be sure to get a handle with a good grip, to prevent damage to your skin from contact with sharp bristles.
Scotchguard: Ladies, if you buy satin shoes, use some Scotch Guard or other fabric protector on them before you wear them. They are very difficult to clean once they get dirty.
If you can’t find a good store in person, your instructor can recommend some online stores.
Vegan Dance Shoes
There are vegan options, that have no leather nor animal products. Generally speaking, these are available on the internet by special order. Most have hard rubber soles, but there are some that have a pseudo-suede sole made from synthetic materials. PETA’s website has several recommendations.