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dance shoes

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If the Shoe Fits: Dance Shoe Tips and Tricks

Photo from CreativeCommons.Org

Photo from CreativeCommons.Org

Dancing is a wonderful sport/hobby because it doesn’t require much in the way of equipment or materials. People + Music + Floor usually make for pretty good dancing. However, a good pair of shoes can greatly enhance your dance experience.

         People new to social dancing usually ask two questions: What kind of shoes should I wear? and Where should I get them?

         If you’re taking a dance class for the very first time, wear shoes that are comfortable and smooth-soled. ABSOLUTELY NO FLIP-FLOPS. You need something that isn’t going to fall off of your heel and something that you can turn in. Tennis shoes are not recommended, because they tend to have treads that stick to the floor. Sandals, flats, and dress shoes (for men) are great for your first lesson or first month or two of dancing. There’s no sense in investing in a pair of dance shoes if you aren’t even sure if dancing is your “thing” yet. Ladies, if you’re a beginner, don’t worry about dancing in heels. Dancing in heels requires control and balance that you will develop as you continue dancing. If you really want to wear heels, start with something low and sturdy, and then work your way up to higher, narrower heels.

         Ok, I hear you. I’m sold on this dancing thing and I want to get a pair of shoes…where should I go?

         If it’s your first pair of dance shoes, get fitted in person for them. Even if you don’t buy the pair that you try on, you’ll have an idea of your shoe size and you can order shoes online based on that size. Locally (writing here from Charleston, SC), you can get fitted/buy shoes at The Turning Pointe, located at 1650 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. They mostly sell shoes for ballet/jazz/tap, etc., but carry some character shoes and can give you an idea of your shoe size. They're also a great place to get dance sneakers and jazz flats, which are great for practicing. 

         How should they fit?

             Your shoes will probably be uncomfortable when you first buy them. It’s ok! You’ll break them in soon enough. Opt for the shoes that fit snugly— they will stretch with time, especially satin shoes, and you want your shoes to be smaller and tighter for better support. Ladies in heels, this is especially true for you. Some people say that for open-toe shoes, your toe should actually hang a little bit over the edge.

            I wear a size 6 ½ or 7 in street shoes and buy dance shoes in 5 ½. The last thing you want is to feel wobbly and out of control in your shoes. The tighter your shoes fit, the easier it will be to “feel” the floor, and your shoes will actually rub less, leading to less blisters. Like other types of clothes and shoes, size and fit will vary a LOT so you want to try on as many as you can and find what works best for you.

Where are some other places for me to shop?

            Online, there are a wealth of dance shoe options. My new favorite right now is Yami Shoes for heels-- they have extra padding in the ball of the foot and heel and are way more comfortable than other heels. You can customize the heel option if you don't want their pre-stocked ones, which are usually 3" or 4".  I have bought shoes from ExoticSalsaShoes.com (it sounds more exciting than it is--sign up for their email newsletter, they always have good sales) or DiscountDanceSupply.com. I have friends who swear by LightInTheBox.com for cheap, stylish shoes, and others who only buy dance shoes on eBay.

            When you’re trying to decide what shoes to buy and from where, it all depends on if you’re going for comfort, durability, or fashion, and on what kind of dance floor you’re spending most of your time. I don’t recommend buying a really expensive, high-end pair of shoes if the only place you go out dancing is a bar. They’ll quickly get a build-up of God knows what—spilled drinks, dirt, hair, grease from food, sweat, etc. You can always scrape that build-up off with a shoe brush (which is a great investment to go with your shoes), but I’ve found it wears my shoes out a lot faster.

            I typically opt for boots/flats/sandals for going out to bars and save my dance shoes for studios, performances, and special event venues.  

But they hurt!

            It might seem obvious, but give yourself time to break your shoes in. It’s really easy to get a super fly new pair of shoes and want to wear them all night at an event.

That is a recipe for a world of pain. Take it slow with new shoes. Wear them around your house to break them in. Wear them during one hour long class or for just the first part of a night of social dancing, and then switch. All shoes are going to rub your feet in different ways. In my experience, blisters are an inevitable part of dancing. But the more I break in a pair of shoes and build up callouses on my feet, the less they hurt.

             Be open to having some ballet or jazz flats or a pair of street shoes that you can dance in that are super comfortable that you can always switch to when you’re tired and your feet start hurting during social dancing or classes. They might not be as snazzy or as sexy, but you’ll feel better the next day.

 

            Like everything in dance, it’s about finding what works for you. What style? What fit? What price point? What durability? Some people are dance shoe fanatics and have dozens of pairs for every occasion. Other people find one pair they love and wear them to the ground. Be open to experiment, give yourself time to break in a pair of shoes, and have fun dancing while you do it!

 

            What do you think? What kind of shoes do you like to dance in? How do you like your dance shoes to fit? Where’s your favorite spot for dance shoes?

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When Does It Stop Hurting?

After a Salsa class one night, one of my students who was wearing high-heeled dance shoes for the first time came up to me and asked “When does it stop hurting? The balls of my feet are killing me!”

    I answered quite truthfully with the first answer that came to my head.

    “Never.”

    Dance is physically demanding. Whether you are doing it recreationally or professionally, it’s a sport. And like all sports, it’s going to take some kind of toll on your body, no matter the level at which you perform. 

    I am reminded of a line from The Princess Bride: “Life is pain [Highness] and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

    That sounds harsh, but it’s the reality. When you’re dancing, you’re using almost all of the muscles in your body. You’re twisting, turning, moving your arms, moving your legs, and engaging muscles that stay stagnant during your normal routines. So yeah, it’s going to hurt.

    But, let’s examine the flip side of that pain.

    You’re having the time of your life.

    Some of the moments I’ve felt most alive, most elated, most joyful, are on the dance floor. It’s 3 AM, my feet are killing me, my back is feeling it, I’m sweaty, I’m tired, I’m hungry, but the music and the dancers and the energy are all swirling around me and I cannot stop. People who run long distances talk about a Runner’s High…people who dance for long periods of time experience a similar Dancer’s High. The adrenaline and endorphins and sense of vitality far, far outweigh the aches and pains. 

    You’re getting in shape.

    Barre fitness classes tout getting a “dancer’s body,” but let’s not forget the *original* way to get that body: by actually dancing. I wore a pedometer out dancing for a full weekend and danced about 10 miles over the course of 3 or 4 days. I always joke after dancing a particularly long and energetic song that I just danced a mile…but there is some truth to that! One of my students told me she lost weight without even trying just by coming to class once or twice a week for about two months. Besides building stamina and endurance, dancing develops muscles that you may not necessarily spend time developing elsewhere. Where else do you get such killer calves? 

    Your pain threshold goes up.

    No, the pain never really goes away. But you learn how to deal with it. Where dancing in heels for one hour was painful, as you get used to it, you can go for two or three and not notice the pain. Where one night of social dancing left your back tight and sore, as you get used to it, you can dance multiple nights in a row and are still able to walk the next day. Where you had one terrible blister that made you ever despair of wearing shoes again, you develop callouses and never, ever scrape them off. 

    Since dance is usually seen as a happy, feel-good activity, people are surprised when it hurts. But the key is to not run from the pain. You have to embrace it, work through, and recognize that it’s temporary. Keep dancing and the things that used to hurt won’t bother you anymore. You’ll develop strategies to deal with the pain— stretching out after a long night of dancing, soaking your feet in epsom salts, adding anti-inflammatories into your diet— and then you’ll enjoy dancing even more

    What do you think? Am I crazy masochist, or have you experienced the same things? What’s the most painful part of dancing for you? Comment below! 

 

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