The perfect pair of shoes can make a world of difference in how you dance. For ballroom dancing, there are three main types of shoes to choose from. These include: Rhythm/Latin, Standard/Smooth, and practice shoes. While we all want to choose the shoe with sparkles, shine, and pizazz, there are many elements that we should consider before making that purchase. Before considering style, we need to determine the proper function, size, height, and more.
Heel size can range from ½ an inch to 4 inches (though we’ve seen higher). If you are new to dancing, choosing a heel that gives you the most comfort should be priority. If you are not used to wearing heels, picking a lower and wider heel is a good place to start. The wider heel will allow you to have more balance, helping you feel comfortable as you begin your dance journey. Women aren’t the only ones who have to choose heel height though; men’s ballroom shoes can also have a heel! During our Rhythm and Latin dances, men will typically wear a Cuban heel, which is usually around 1.5 to 2 inches tall. Why is this necessary? Your heel in Rhythm/Latin shoes will not only help you create the forward poise necessary for proper connection, but they will also help your foot hit the floor sooner, resulting in improved body motion. The higher the heel, the more you’ll be able to move (as strange as it sounds). Once again: Don’t start in 4-inch heels! Go for what you feel confident in and then upgrade from there.
“Well that’s nice, but what about Smooth/Standard shoes?” Great question. Your Smooth and Standard shoes will typically have a wider heel, a full shank, and a closed toe. You can also find these shoes in 4 inches, but typically we suggest a lower heel for comfort for both you and your partner. Gentlemen will find their shoes also have a wider base, providing more stability. These will typically look like dress shoes you would wear to a wedding.
Closed vs. Open Toe
Typically, Latin dances such as Rumba, Salsa, Cha Cha, etc. will have shoes designed with an open toe for the ladies. These dances require the pointing of your toe to create proper Cuban motion (and, of course, the sensuality and flirtation of those dances), so the open toe will aid in the ability to do so. Closed toe shoes are typically designed for your Smooth dances. The closed toes and lower heel provide more support on gliding across the floor and as heel steps are an important part of smooth dancing, the lower heel will make it easier to propel forward.
When purchasing your shoe, you want to make sure that the sole has a suede bottom. The suede provides a good balance of traction and slip. Suede sole shoes will need to be brushed with a wired shoe brush. Much like a suede couch, the shoes will pick up various dust, dirt, and debris as you dance. To clean the shoes, the wire brush is raked roughly across the bottom the shoes. Don’t try to be nice to your shoes when cleaning them!
The price for dance shoes can range from $25- $300+. Investing in a good pair of shoes will mean a longer dance life for the footwear. There are many deals you can find from online retailers, but this inhibits trying on the shoe. The best method when dealing with online retailers is to check the measuring chart they provide and to make sure they are returnable. In a perfect world, you’ll be able to travel to your local dance boutique and get sized, plus try on a few pairs! The price there will usually be comparable to the online retailers.
Some ballroom heels may need heel protectors to protect the floor, the shoe, and give dancers more traction. Protectors will prolong the life of the shoe and prevent the nail that is attached to the shoe from being exposed. Once your heel becomes rounded from taking big beautiful heel leads, it can be dangerous to dance more in those shoes. Again, brushing the shoe will help maintain the roughness of the suede. The suede on the heel may fall off but this is a normal thing and you can just reattach it with superglue. You also want to avoid moisture to maintain the shoe. It is best to only wear your dance shoes inside, preferably while you are dancing. Having two pairs of shoes is the best way to maintain the lifespan, so that one pair can dry out completely before wearing them again.
The MOST IMPORTANT thing about your shoes is that they are properly sized! Gentlemen: you want your shoes to fit like a sock. This is to ensure that you feel the floor properly and can do the proper footwork (especially in your Rhythm dances). If they are too big, the fabric of the shoe will prevent you from executing great footwork (and can even cause you to trip over your own feet). Ladies: the same applies in your Smooth shoes. In your Rhythm shoes (the open toes), you actually want to make sure that your toes hang over the edge a little bit. This is because when you point your toe, your foot gets “smaller.” Your shoe, of course, remains the same size. If we see shoe when we point our feet, the shoe is too big.
And Finally: A Note on Style
When you’re ready to find the sparkly, pretty pair of your dreams, keep a few practical things in mind. Are you buying for a specific outfit or costume? Or are you planning to wear these shoes all the time? If they’re for a performance, you may consider matching the shoes to your outfit. Typically, ladies will choose skin-toned shoes for practice and competition. Because the fabric of the shoe matches your skin, your leg-line appears extended. When looking at sparkles: get a few extra rhinestones to replace the ones that may fall off during practice, performance and competition. Leaders typically choose black shoes to match their black pants that are typically worn, but other colors are available as well. Some sites even offer full customization of the style of your shoe!
Still have questions about shoes? Ask your instructor for more tips!