ONE of the biggest differences between “regular” shoes (street shoes) and ballroom shoes are the soles.
Ballroom Dance Shoes are lightweight shoes with thin suede (chrome leather) or smooth leather soles. The most common being the chrome leather (suede). Ballroom shoes are made for both men and women, with heel heights for men ranging between 1″ (smooth/standard) and 1.5″ (latin/rhythm) and 1″-3″ (typically not higher) for women.
The soles of a ballroom shoe allow the shoes to glide on the dance floor, with just the right amount of grip. Ballroom shoes are also very flexible, allowing you to “feel” the floor, and provide the movement and flexibility necessary to show off your dance techniques. Especially in competition, women should wear tan or flesh-colored shoes, to extend the look of the leg, and not call too much attention to the feet.
The three basic types of Ballroom dance shoes are Latin, Standard (also called “Court” or “Modern”), and Practice shoes. Shoes should be selected not only for appearance, but also for comfort, support, and performance.
Latin shoes for women are typically an open-toed sandal with a heel from 1 to 3 inches high. The standard heel height is 2.5 inches. If you only buy one type of shoe, it is recommended that you start with a latin sandal. If you can, go for the 2.5″ heel. The height of the heel helps to place your weight properly forward, onto the balls of your feet, but certainly, go lower if you are not comfortable wearing a 2.5″ heel, or have a foot problem that could be worsened by a higher heel. Please note that because of the thinness of the sole on the ball of your foot- you will have sore feet the first couple of weeks as you adjust to wearing a ballroom shoe. Men’s latin shoes have what is called a Cuban Heel that is 1.5 inches high. Most men only wear latin shoes for competition, and you do not see men wearing them often for social dancing outside of the ballroom.
Standard shoes for women are closed-toed pumps. Men’s standard shoes are usually a black oxford-style lace-up, with a heel comparable to regular dress shoes. Men, if you only purchase one type of shoe, it should be the standard.
Practice shoes are optional. Women’s practice shoes sometimes resemble a man’s standard shoe with a higher heel. You can also buy dance sneakers that have suede soles.
As far as fit goes, you want to think of your dance shoe almost like a sock. Typically you will have about 1/2″ of “wiggle” room or a “lip” on the end of your shoe when wearing street shoes. This should NOT be the case for a dance shoe. For men, and ladies closed-toe, definitely make sure the shoe fits comfortably, you don’t want your toes pinched. For ladies in a latin shoe, you want your toes to come to the end of the shoe sole if possible and comfortable. You need to avoid excess sole extending past your toes on any type of dance shoe. Dance shoes are often made and sold in European sizes, which are generally 1.5 sizes smaller than American sizes. This is not always true, so check size charts carefully if you are ordering online.
To help maintain your dance shoes, there are a few things you need and/or need to do;
For Ladies, wear heel protectors. Heel protectors perform three important tasks: they protect the floor, they give you more traction, and they protect the heels of your shoes. The little heel tips on your shoes wear out quickly, and replacing them will cost $5 or more. When they wear out, they expose the nail that attaches them to the shoe. Plastic heel protectors will prolong the life of your shoes (and your investment). Also, if you buy satin shoes, using some Scotchguard or another fabric protector prior to wearing them the first time, will help keep them clean, and easier to clean if they do get marked.
Money saver for satin shoes: If you buy your satin shoes in a flesh or light color, simply take them to a shoe repair shop to have them dyed black when they start looking too shabby or dirty! It’s usually about $10 to extend the life of your shoe!
For Men, if you buy patent leather, using a little vaseline in the inside of your heels and inside front part of your shoe will help the shoes not to stick when you are brushing as you break them in.
For all, Buy a Shoe Brush! Suede soles lose their nap after a couple of months (more often if you wear them outside of the ballroom). Buy a steel-bristled shoe brush with a handle to refresh the nap in your shoes. These are available at dance shoe vendors. It’s best to brush your shoes at least on a weekly basis if you are dancing regularly.