What kind of shoes are best to get/wear? When you first come out dancing, there is no need to invest in any kind of special shoes. Simply grab some comfortable shoes out of your closet. You may want to pick a pair that will slide a bit on the floor so you don’t stick when trying to turn. Overall, the real key word is “comfortable”. As time goes by, you may want to invest into some dance shoes. To fill you in on all the ins and outs of selecting swing dance shoes, we’ve written the following guide:
A lot has changed since we first wrote the original version of the dance shoe guide. Back then, the selection of “off-the-shelf” swing dance shoes was very limiting. They were all variants of the stereotypical black and white wigtip (even for ladies) and most had rubber bottoms that allowed limited spin and almost no slide. Popular styles like wedges for ladies were hard to find. Our primary recommendation was to find a comfortable pair of street shoes and have them “chromed”. However, in the past few years, the Aris Allen brand has emerged as the forerunner in the area of swing dance shoes. They offered the styles popular amongst swing dancers, feature a selection of suede and hard leather bottoms, and have styles in a variety of price ranges. In fact the only major drawback is that you have to order them online in most areas and can’t try them on in person. However, DanceStore.com offers a great return policy to help you get the right size.
While our primary recommendation is the Aris Allen brand for swing dance shoes, it’s always to your advantage to be as educated as possible about the ins and outs of dance shoes. We hope this will answer all the questions you have.
What should I look for in swing dance shoes? The number one thing to look for is comfort. You want a shoe that fits well and that you feel will be comfortable to be in for a long time. Watch out for shoes that are too loose or too tight. However, keep in mind that leather shoes will often stretch as you wear them so, in some cases, it’s not a bad idea if they are slightly snug. You also want to find a shoe that has a flexible upper and isn’t stiff.
What is “spin” and “slide”? Spin and slide are the key to any good dance shoe and this is especially true for swing dancing. The dance involves a lot of spinning and actions that require your foot to have some slide on the floor. You want to avoid shoes that have soft rubber bottoms like athletic or running shoes. This will cause you to stick to the floor and make turns and footwork very difficult. Ideally, you want a surface on the bottom of the shoe that allows it to slide and spin. Suede leather and hard leather are the best for dancing, however, some shoes with hard plastic or hard rubber bottoms work as well. How much spin or slide a shoe should have is up to you. In the beginning, you may want more control on the floor so only a little slide is fine. More advanced dancers may want a lot of slide.
What does “chromed” mean? This is simply the term that means the bottom of the shoe has been covered with either suede or hard leather. Most off-the-shelf dance shoes will already have this. However, you can take street shoes to a shoe repair shop and have them chromed. This usually runs about $25 to $30 for a pair. Most good shoe repairs will know what you are talking about as soon as you say “chromed”. There is an excellent shoe repair in the Altamonte Mall that we usually recommend. There are do-it-yourself ways to chrome shoes, but we’ve had much better results having them professionally done. If you are going to have street shoes chromed, keep in mind that the leather must be placed over a fairly smooth surface. If the shoe has deep treads, they will need to be sanded off. In some shoes, the tread is so deep that little of the sole’s padding will be left after the process. This is something to look out for.
Is suede or hard leather bottoms better? This is really a matter of personal choice. Suede leather tends to have a little more grip on the dance floor at first. As the suede wears smooth, it gets slicker. With suede, you can always brush the bottoms with a wire brush to rough up the suede and give it more grip on the floor. Hard leather is typically a little slicker and you do not have the ability to brush it. Also, hard leather comes in varying degrees of hardness. The softer forms of hard leather (like the Aris Allen raw sole) are very flexible while the harder forms can be stiff until broken in but give you a super slick surface to dance on.
Should I wear my dance shoes outside? Overall, it’s not recommended. Concrete will rapidly wear out surfaces like suede leather and the Aris Allen raw sole (a softer form of hard leather). However, if you have a pair of shoes that have a more rigid form of hard leather, you can wear them outside. Overall, it’s a good idea to keep your shoes reserved for dancing and change into them when you get to the dance hall.
Are ballroom shoes good for swing dancing? Typically, we don’t recommend them. This is more true for women than men. Women’s ballroom shoes often have narrow and/or high heels. This tends to work against you when it comes to swing dancing. In addition, both men’s and women’s ballroom shoes tend to lack the padding that is nice to have for swing.
Are other forms of dance shoes good for swing? Some forms of dance shoes, like those designed for jazz dancing, can work well with swing dancing. However, tap, clog, or any form of shoe with metal on the bottom are not good for swing seeing many venues will not allow them on the dance floor.
What about bowling shoes? Believe it or not, many forms of bowling shoes work well for swing dancing. Many come with suede bottoms. Some models will have rubber heels. This may not effect beginners, but as you become more advance, you may want to have the heels chromed.
What is taping shoes? You can take masking tape and apply it to the bottoms of any pair of street shoes to give them slide and spin. This is a very temporary solution and usually only lasts (at most) a night of dancing before needing to be reapplied. While this works, the tape often comes off while dancing. Not only is it a pain to keep reapplying, you may not be the most popular person with the guy who has to clean the floor at the end of the evening. This trick also works (a little better) with stick-on felt.