Here is a quick overview on how to choose a shoe (or multiple pairs), and a few examples of the many ones available out there. These are just some basic principles/guidelines for finding a shoe, but if you have unusually-shaped/sized feet or any foot problems, you should probably consult someone much more expert than me to find the right fit for you. I know more about women’s shoes (obviously), but will write a bit about men’s shoes at the end.
First of all, if you want to dance regularly, you should really invest in a pair of decent ballroom dance shoes! You’ll find everything much easier to do compared to dancing in street shoes, socks, or other dance shoes. Other dance shoes like jazz shoes, character shoes, or ballet slippers can substitute for a while if you happen to already have them, but they are (obviously) designed for different kinds of dance. They are cheaper, but not as well-suited for ballroom as ballroom shoes are.
Beginner women should start with a Latin/rhythm sandal, because it is a bit more versatile than a standard/smooth shoe. You can dance standard/smooth alright while wearing a Latin shoe, but it’s just really awkward to do Latin in a standard shoe. (Oddly enough, it’s the opposite for men, but I’ll get to that later). Your basic Latin shoe looks like this:
Latin shoes are generally strappy, open-toed, with a 2.5 inch flared heel, enclosed heel cup, suede bottoms, and some sort of strap that goes around the ankle and/or the instep to secure it to your foot. For competitive dancers, you should get tan satin shoes for competition. The idea behind this norm is that they blend into your foot and extend your leg line (like nude-colored pumps do) and don’t show footwork flaws as readily as flashy or contrasting shoe colors. (If you don’t care about using them in competition, you can get them in leather and all kinds of colors. Black is particularly popular.) They should fit more snugly than your average street shoe, with your toes just barely hanging over the edge of the shoe when you’re standing up. It’s a little weird-feeling at first, but it’s so that you can point your feet and have a nice line. The shoes will also stretch out over time, so if you buy them to fit more comfortably, then soon they will be too loose and unsupportive. Latin shoes also often come in 3”, but these aren’t advisable unless you are more advanced.
Women’s standard shoes generally look like this:
Women’s standard shoes generally are a court style, basically like a pump. They also have a suede bottom, but have closed toes unlike a Latin sandal. The heels are generally narrower, either a contour (kind of a mini-flare) or a straight-up-and-down “slim” heel. The most common heel height for standard shoes is 2.5”, but many ladies also like the lower 2” ones. Some come with a strap across the instep to secure them, like this (my go-to shoe):
I highly recommend getting ones with straps, because I used to have a pair without them and they fell off my feet in competition a few times. No good. You can buy clear straps to keep them on, but these just look prettier 🙂
Like Latin shoes, Standard ones should hug your feet pretty closely. They should be snug but not painful. They come in round and pointed toes, so you should try different variations to see which fit best on your feet. Importantly, they should be snug enough on your feet so that they stay on! When you rise up on the balls of your feet, the heel cups of the shoe should stay on the heels of your foot, and not be loose at all. I will warn you, Standard shoes are harder to get used to because of the restricted fit, but they make dancing Standard so much better, compared to Latin shoes! Similarly, competition standard shoes are usually tan-colored to blend in with your foot/leg. Unless you wear a white dress – then, your shoes should be white to match.
Tips for Women’s Shoe Care:
- Get heel protectors that fit your shoe heels and put them on ASAP! These keep the plastic heel tips from wearing down, which is almost inevitable. Most are clear plastic, but you can also get them with suede bottoms. Some people also use suede stars, which you kind of wrap around the bottom and secure with tape.
- Brush the suede soles of your shoes regularly with a shoe brush to get dirt out of the nap. This gives them some of the original grip that the suede had when new and will make your shoes last much longer.
- For standard shoes, spray them with a fabric protector before you wear them. I use Scotchguard (though I can’t find it in stores anymore) or Kiwi Protect-All. This makes them a little more dirt-resistant and easier to clean later. Don’t spray this on the suede soles though.
- Cleaning shoes: you can use a sponge dampened with Woolite or regular detergent in warm water to gently scrub out scuffs. Just make sure to get the whole satin surface damp so that you don’t get water marks. Then let dry overnight. I’m not sure how effective this is without having sprayed fabric protector first, though.
I haven’t owned a pair of smooth shoes, since I just use my standard ones for both, but am considering getting a pair. They’re sort of a Latin/standard shoe hybrid – they have closed toes but are often open on the sides, so that you can point your foot more easily and make a nice line. So, they are more flexible than Standard shoes, but also less supportive as a result. They come in more design variations than do standard shoes.
I don’t like wearing my Standard shoes all the time because they’re not super comfy for long practices and get dirty easily, so I like to wear practice shoes for everyday. These come in all sorts of designs, but many are leather oxfords that are similar to a man’s Latin shoe (see below). If you want to wear them with socks, you can buy them a little bit looser than your other shoes. Bonus: they seem to last a lot longer!
Beginner men should get a Standard oxford in black leather, like this:
They look a lot like jazz shoes, but have much more support on the bottom, with suede soles. The shoes should fit snugly but not painfully while wearing thin dress socks. So, your toes should come to the end of the toe box, or very close to it. These will work for both Standard/Smooth and Latin/Rhythm.
Latin/rhythm shoes have a higher “Cuban” heel, about 1”. (They’re awkward to take heel leads in, so I guess that’s why Standard shoes work for both at first.)
They’re basically the same as Standard/smooth shoes, other than the higher heel, which helps you stay more forward-weighted. Might feel a little weird at first, since most men haven’t worn heels before. They’re also more likely to come in split soles or with shorter shanks (the metal part in the sole that supports your foot), which help with flexibility.
Keep the suede soles brushed and the leather polished regularly, and they should last you quite a while! I’ve also seen guys keep shoe trees in the shoe when they’re not wearing them, to maintain the shape. Lots of guys like to buy the shiny patent leather shoes later on, which require some more care and some petroleum jelly rubbed on the inside to keep them from sticking together. Patent shoes in particular are vulnerable to cracking, so keeping them stuffed while not worn is even more important.
Finding YOUR Shoe:
The best way to find the perfect shoe is to try them on in person, either at a dance shoe store or at a competition/event. Unfortunately, your average dance supply store is unlikely to have many ballroom shoes to try on, so an event is your best bet. The vendors should also be fairly knowledgeable and give you advice about what models seem to suit your feet better. If you can’t go anywhere to try them on in person, then you’ll have to resort to buying shoes online. Find a place with a good return policy! Once you find the right shoe for you and are sure it works well, you can find it online for cheaper, especially directly from the UK. Personally, I think the more expensive brands (usually European brands like Ray Rose, Supadance, International, Freed) really are higher in quality, fit better, and last longer than cheaper ones. I had a pair of Capezio Standard shoes that weren’t as comfortable and started falling apart, with the fabric shredding, while that’s never happened with my Supadances. Though if you’re just starting out and don’t want to invest too much, it’s fine to start with whatever you can afford (I’ve heard that Very Fine and Stephanie are good cheaper brands). Sometimes one shoe seems to work fine, but then you might find another model that’s even better, so if you get to the point that you’re wearing shoes out left and right (get it?), you can try lots of different ones to find the perfect fit.
Duodance (the cheapest prices I can find)