Whether you’ve been dancing for a week or several years, choosing a good dance shoe can be a tricky proposition. One of your best resources is other dancers, you can ask what works for them. Ultimately your shoe decision will be individual, but to help you think through the process here is a collection of information I’ve gathered in my many shoe shopping endeavours.
A good swing dance shoe should:
1. Be supportive and should probably be a flat shoe.
2. Have a bit (or a lot) of slide on a wood floor.
3. Have an upper-shoe that secures firmly to your foot.
4. Be comfortable—so you’ll want to keep on dancing.
The amount of slide is up to you. It is completely possible to dance in a grippy shoe because it encourages you to pick up your feet.
- Rubber soles are the grippiest, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make great dance shoes. If you look at swing era footage plenty of the old-timers danced in tennis shoes and sneakers.
- Felt bottomed shoes are available and they offer a good amount of slide. These are a good option both for price and if you don’t like to wear leather shoes. These are often billed as ‘non-marking soles.’
- Leather soles give you great slide and are fantastic to dance on. These are great to own but it does take some practice to get used to the slide they offer. Most experienced dancers own a pair of leather soled shoes.
- Suede soles are slightly less slippy than leather if well maintained with a wire brush. They essentially become leather if you don’t maintain them. Either is a great option. These are also a good choice.
- Duct Tape—Not Recommended. The basic premise here is to cover the bottom of your shoe in duct tape to produce slide. It’s very cheap but it wears out frequently and can leave residue on dance floors. Might be an option with a poorly maintained floor and a really old pair of sneakers.
Keep in mind for both leather and suede soled shoes that these are indoor shoes and you want to avoid getting the soles wet if possible. They’re typically fine after having dried out if you manage to get them wet—but expect them to be very sticky on the dance floor until then.
How much is this going to cost me?
This depends completely on what you want out of your shoe, your budget, and whether you’re willing to get creative about it. The general range is probably from about $25-200 CAD depending on what you’re looking for.
A great starter shoe is a pair of worn in sneakers in which the tread is partly gone. These will give you some slip but will still give you grip when you need it. Avoid athletic shoes—you want a flat bottomed basic sneaker without too much grip. Sneakers are also great for dancing outside because they have more support and cushioning than other options.
Canvas Tennis Shoes
These are typically seen in white; though any experienced dancer will tell you, “don’t get a white canvas shoe—get ANY other colour.” This is because white canvas is a beacon for dirt and your shoes will get stepped on.
- Available sometimes at Payless shoes with a non marking felt sole.
- Keds makes a canvas sneaker with felt on the sole.
- Aris Allen makes a canvas sneaker for Women’s sizes with a suede sole.
- Mens sizing available for Vans shoes that are a basic canvas laceup. Can be found in many colours.
Women’s Dress Shoes:
For dressier occasions where you want to dance, a good flat can be your best friend. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- If it is a ballet flat, does it fit snugly? If not it will definitely slip off while dancing. Your better bet is a T-Strap or Mary Jane style flat.
- Does the sole have slip to it? Some flat shoes will have a felt or leather sole which is optimal.
- If you wear insoles, will they fit into these shoes? Flats often offer the least support and food bed cushioning.
Not so Flat Options
Character shoes are the go to shoes for chorus lines everywhere. They are low heeled, usually black, and have a T-Strap or Mary Jane style closure. They are very sturdy and if you intend to Lindy in heels, these are a good start.
- Available at most dance stores and can be found in Toronto.
- Many makes and models for a reasonable price.
Other heeled shoes can make good dance shoes but make sure that the shoe is not likely to come flying off in the middle of a swing out. Straps, buckles and a good fit are important.
Wedgies are another option, they offer more stability and are often lower heeled.
Keep in mind, in any dance shoe with a heel—you want a comfortable, supportive shoe that straps securely to your foot. Save your stilettos for another occasion.
Men’s Dress Shoes:
If you ask around the scene you will find that the most common type of dress shoe worn by men is the Aris Allen Captoe. This is not your only option. Ideally you want a light weight shoe with a chrome leather sole. A well made dress shoe of any variety with a leather sole can become your dance shoe.
Whichever option you choose, remember to take care of your shoes and your feet so that both will be on the dance floor all night. Don’t be afraid to try out a few steps in the shop to be sure of fit and function. See you, and your new kicks, on the dance floor.