So, you've been dancing for a few weeks. You've hung around to watch the more senior dancers strut their stuff in fancy dancing shoes. It might just be time for you to invest in your own pair, which will revolutionise how you dance, how you think of dancing and even how you walk wearing normal shoes.
For the girls out there – if you’ve been dancing in flats up until now, don’t stress about the extra height of a dancing heel. They are very stable (for the most part), and once you’ve learnt to dance in heels, you’ll be infinitely more graceful in stilettos or other taller ‘street shoes’. For the guys, this will be less of a change, but proper dancing shoes will make a massive difference to how you put your feet down, and how responsive the floor is to your steps.
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT THEM?
Dancing shoes have suede soles, which mean that you have some grip on what would be an otherwise slippery wooden floor. We don’t want you doing the splits now! The heels of the girls’ shoes also often have a steel shank for added stability – useful for reducing wobbles. The soles of the shoes are often more supple than other shoes, allowing you to be precise in your placement of your toes, and more definite in getting your heels down in a jive.
When you go to buy a pair of shoes for the first time, it is important to buy the correct size – a well-fitted shoe should not be too tight (you’ll get BLISTERS like you can’t believe) or too loose (you might lose it…). So go for snug, but not too tight. A good shop assistant should be able to help you, and they should be able to order the right size for you even if it’s not in stock. You can also slightly modify the fit of a shoe using in-soles, which is useful if you have narrow feet or high arches.
There are three basic styles of shoes: Ballroom, Latin and Practice (usually only worn by teachers and professionals).
BALLROOM/LATINWhen buying your first pair of shoes, ladies should go for Latin shoes, and men should go for Ballroom shoes.
This is because the respective shoes are more versatile – Ladies, you can dance Ballroom and Latin in your Latin shoes (but you can’t dance Latin in Ballroom shoes, which are slightly differently shaped), and Gents, the classic Ballroom shoe is much easier to learn on than men’s Latin shoes.
Men’s ballroom shoes have a flatter heel than men’s Latin shoes, which come with something called a “Cuban heel”. It is far easier for men to learn on a lower heel – imagine learning to dance and learning to walk in what is in essence a low high heel as well! The Cuban heel (shown in the picture) is good for Latin, but makes ballroom significantly more difficult. There are a few variations in terms of style, but chiefly, they are simple, black lace-up Oxfords.
For the ladies, ballroom shoes (court shoe-style shoes) are only really useful for ballroom, so they lack the versatility of Latin shoes, which can be used for both. Latin heels are further back than ballroom heels, which push your weight onto your toes: exactly where you want it for having the most control. Woman’s Latin shoes are open at the sides, but aside from that, they come in a dizzying array of styles – sandals, closed-toe, spider-toe, T-bar strap… these are all decisions that you will have to make for yourself when you go to the shop. Heel height (2”, 2.5” or 3”), toe shape, and number of ankle straps are the choices with the most impact on personal comfort. 2” heels are recommended for taller women who don’t like heels, 2.5” flared heels are good for most beginners. 3” and slim heels are not recommended for beginners. Straps that come over the top of the foot (and not just around the ankle) will give you extra stability. Closed toes, rather than the open “sandal” style, will save your toes some battering, especially at first. It’s best to fit a few on before you decide which style feels comfortable and looks best for you.
The materials shoes are made from vary. Men’s shoes can be leather, imitation leather or patent (shiny ones). Leather ones would be more expensive, generally, but will last longer. Ladies’ shoes are generally made of leather or satin. Bear in mind that leather shoes will stretch (slightly) with wear.
CARING FOR YOUR SHOES
Caring for your shoes is simple. NEVER wear them outside, and keep them clean. Carry them to dancing in a bag (a net bag will reduce odors) and put them on when you’re on the dance floor. This will prevent them becoming overly dirty with external elements. On the dance floor, there can also be dust and floor wax, which can be brushed off using a wire brush. Dance shops stock these, but it is also possible to use a wire-bristled braai brush. It is recommended by several online sources that you should brush your suede from toe to heel. Once all the suede has been worn off, it is possible to have them resoled at some cobblers. The upper part of your shoes also needs some care – especially men’s leather shoes. Polish them to prevent them cracking. Ladies’ leather shoes can be wiped with polish too, but satin shoes require more care. The heel tips on ladies’ shoes will eventually wear out, which will expose the nail or steel shank. It is important to get worn out heels replaced at a cobbler, or else just buy heel protectors (at dance shops) and replace those.
SO WHAT'S THE DAMAGE?
Price-wise… well, this is an investment. A good pair of shoes will last you longer than a year if you look after them, and you will get much pleasure out of them in the form of a better dancing experience. The price of your new shoes will vary depending on the style and make of shoe, but usually falls within the range of R200 – R1000. A good pair of entry level shoes should cost you about R400.
Keep plasters in your dancing bag – new shoes have been known to leave horrible blisters for the first bit, until your feet get used to them and they get used to your feet. In no time at all, however, you will be strutting your stuff, and wondering how you ever managed in ‘normal-people-shoes.’