What’s a Theme and Why it’s Important for Your Wedding Planning

Everyone knows one of the first things you do when you think about your wedding is ask yourself “what colors do I want to use?” With all the thought to colors you may have overlooked selecting a theme for your wedding. What’s a theme you ask? A theme is essentially the overall look and feel of your wedding. The theme goes way beyond the color palette and is incorporated in every little detail from the invitations, to the venue, even the filters your photographer might use for your photos.

Why is a theme important?

A theme helps you decide on which items you should purchase on the wedding swap online Facebook page and which ones you should definitely skip! Even if there are 100 cute little votive candle holders for only $20! Remember those 20 dollar bills can add up! And instead, you can put it towards another aspect of the wedding you really hold near and dear to your heart – like photography! Besides, who wants a room full of second-hand unused stuff you need to go through after your honeymoon because you went crazy buying anything and everything that “might” work?

Just don’t do it – instead, pick your colors and theme and do your best to stick to it! Listed below are top 5 trending wedding themes mentioned on the most popular online wedding sites, such as The Knot, Wedding Wire and Bridal Guide. We are sure you will see these themes for 2018. Take a look and tell use which theme tugs at the heartstrings for your big day! We’d love to know what you think.

Vintage (or Urban Vintage)

The vintage wedding trend is still going strong! It’s no surprise — there’s just something that feels so romantic and sentimental about adding old-fashioned items and antiques to your wedding decor. Many couples choose to add family heirlooms to their décor, giving a personal touch to their vintage wedding.

If vintage just isn’t doing it for you, but you love the idea, an urban vintage theme may be exactly what you’re looking for. This look is achieved by combining two bold aesthetics — one being “urban industrialism” (think concrete, steel, wood, straight lines, smooth textures) and the other being softer (soft textures like lace, softer flowers like petal flowers, hand-painted details like stationary, china, menu cards embossed or done with calligraphy).

vintage wedding style - reception table decor

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

High Drama – Lots of Dramatic Flair

If you have “over-the-top taste”, this “high drama” theme is the one for you! This trend has gorgeous, eye-catching and unexpected dramatic details that are sure to wow your guests and make you the envy of all your friends!

This is not your average church or backyard wedding. High Drama means dripping in crystals, beads, flowing drapery, feathers, candles, and the like. Giant floral arrangements and hanging elements like crystals, lighting & draping, will really elevate the ambiance. A bunch of candles, hanging chandeliers, and colored LED lighting will enhance the scene as well.

The nice thing about this theme is that you can adjust the level of dramatic flair to work with your personal style & taste, making it a truly versatile theme, plus it works year-round!

high drama wedding style - wedding ceremony

Photo Credit: John Labbe/Created by Preston Bailey


According to BridalGuide.com, another popular theme, probably pinned on your Pinterest boards, is simple and pure romance. From ceremonies softly lit by candlelight to receptions with astonishing crystal chandeliers, this beautiful trend will melt your heart. Romance is a theme we don’t ever see going out of style. It’s for the true lovers of the world.

pure romance - wedding reception

Photo Credit: KT Merry


The definition of whimsical, according to the Webster Dictionary, is resulting from or characterized by whim or caprice; lightly fanciful.

Now, how do you design a whimsical wedding? That’s easy – be creative and don’t be afraid to be edgy. Do you have a favorite childhood cartoon? Think of elements that would tie into that. Create your own rendition of a perfect Cinderella wedding, or if you’re a little quirky go for Alice in Wonderland inspired décor. Maybe you want a circus wedding complete with a real performers exotic animals. There’s no right or wrong way to do this so just have fun with it!

whimsical wedding style - showing real camel during wedding ceremony



Why fix what isn’t broken? We learned this trend is here to stay from The Knot Pro Workshop this year. Skip trendy for timeless and your special day will look perfectly put together and you’ll never worry about looking back at your wedding pictures and immediately knowing what decade your wedding took place! Think light sheer fabrics, tall centerpieces with lush floral arrangements, chair ties and seat covers, rose petals or garland draped across the head table.

Classic weddings are made unique by thoughtful touches, so don’t be afraid to think about which small-but-meaningful items are worthy expressions of you and your partner’s personalities.

classic wedding style - reception table decor

Photo by epagaFOTO

So now that you know what a wedding theme is, all you need to do is pick one, stick to it, and relax knowing you didn’t waste money on décor you really didn’t need. And enjoy incorporating your chosen theme into your wedding celebrations!

The OP Ballroom Event Team

Wedding Guests Should be Dancers, Not Downers

Please choose your wedding reception seat - our only request is you get up and dance a song or twoI was absorbed in Pinterest the other day when I spotted this clever homemade sign from an Etsy seller. As the owner of not only a ballroom but a wedding event venue, I definitely see the need for this sign. In fact, I see it a lot: Wedding guests…just…sitting.

It’s kind of sad, really. Weddings are happy occasions, and dancing – even if you’re freestyling it – is a great way to celebrate! Who cares what you look like?

But I get it. For many people, overcoming that insecurity is a big hurdle. I can tell them over and over that all anyone remembers from a wedding reception is how much fun it was (or wasn’t). No one is thinking about your dancing skills. I can tell them that as long as you’re remaining upright, you can call that a success. (Heck, even if you fall down, it just adds to the overall memory of a fun, crazy, night!)

Unfortunately, those reassurances alone probably won’t nudge everyone out of their chairs. But as we approach the fall wedding season, you need to ask yourself: Do you plan on joining the fun, or will you stay tethered to your chair next to your half-eaten plate of cake?

Don’t let fear ruin your good time

For those planning a wedding, the details seem endless. The color of the bridesmaid dresses, the flavor of cake, how close Grandma should be seated to the bathroom…and of course, what songs to play at the reception. So much goes into planning for the big day, including a lot of expense. The least you can do is play your part in the celebration.

Except that’s hard to do when fear is getting the best of you. User “Jeff” posted this comment on a social anxiety forum, and his comments are indicative of the way many people feel:

“Wedding receptions scare the crap out of me … I can count on one hand the number of times in my life that I’ve tried to dance in public (if you could call it dancing). Ugh. I could probably overcome this fear if I had someone to teach me and go out in public with me and show me what to do and what not to do.”

If you’re not someone like Jeff yourself, then you can easily spot them at the reception. They’re not happy about staying behind, but they also can’t bear to expose themselves in front of a crowd.

Invest in some prep

Jeff really nails the solution to conquering his fears at the end of his post: He just needs someone to teach him. Yes! Confidence comes when you feel prepared! It doesn’t matter if you’re taking a test in school, presenting to your boss at work, or taking your first steps on the dance floor—if you’ve put in the effort to learn the material, you feel confident in your abilities. (Plus, you just might have a little fun while you’re at it.)

That preparation means at least a few dance lessons to teach you some basic steps. I know what you’re thinking, but a small investment of your time now will pay dividends in the years to come. I actually just read an article recently that espoused the common-sense advantages of splurging to buy a basic yet timeless tuxedo. After using it just a few times, you’re already saving money over rental fees (not to mention avoiding the hassle and hygiene issues of wearing another man’s tux every time you’re invited to a formal event).

Dance is no different. By learning some basic steps, you’ll be able to show off your skills at countless weddings and celebrations the rest of your life. Imagine not carrying around that fear and insecurity anymore, and walking into that reception hall ready to party!

So, whether you want to learn a few standard dance moves you can do with a partner, or some basic steps for a little solo freestyle, we can help keep you in the middle of the celebration, and not just on the sidelines.

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. When she attends a wedding reception, you’ll either find her in the middle of the dance floor or encouraging someone to come join her. Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.

Think Value Not Price for your Event Space

So, you’re engaged… Congratulations! Now it’s time to start planning your dream wedding. You’re on your laptop researching the perfect venue and mesmerized by the gorgeous ring on your finger! Try not to become overwhelmed with finding the best “deal” on your venue, and instead, focus on finding the best value for your money.

I said yes wedding engagement

Photo credit: Dallin’s Paperie

Ask About Amenities included in your Venue Rental

It is easy to pick an event space offering a rental price you can’t pass up, but keep in mind you may be passing up on important amenities that ensure a stress-free wedding day for you, your partner and your wedding party. Amenities such as set up & tear down for example; Who wants to spend their wedding day rolling out five-foot tables and placing hundreds of chairs when you should be getting pampered and relaxing before you say “I do?” And no, your best friend, cousin and mom shouldn’t be doing it either! What about table linens? Linens can easily cost an additional $500 just to rent. And you would be responsible for damage, shipping and making sure they arrive on time. What do you do when the “too good to pass up” event space doesn’t provide on-site staff the day of your event to ensure the facilities are maintained? Oh, yea, toilet paper eventually runs out, and heaven forbid a bathroom incident that needs immediate clean up! These are just a few things to consider when booking your venue.

Compare Venue Quotes

Unless you have some awesome connections in the wedding industry, I recommend searching for an event space that provides as many amenities as possible at a fair price! Keep in mind, price means very little until you actually compare what you are buying to other offers. When you get a quote make sure you know what it includes and what it doesn’t – if you aren’t sure, ask! And if you still aren’t sure, ask again! Any good event space staff won’t mind explaining what you’re purchasing. Even though it takes some time to compare quotes, getting the lowest price and then finding out it wasn’t what you thought or you could have had more value for just a little more money isn’t a very good feeling for anyone!

It’s your day, it’s once in a lifetime, and you should feel your hard earned money was well spent, and you received a good value. Ask for complete quotes and take the time to really know what you are buying so you can make a decision based on value rather than a low price.

P.S. love the ring 😉


The OP Ballroom Event Team

To Sleeve or Not to Sleeve, That is the Sweaty Question

The savory smoke from a barbecue grill, the fresh perfume of newly cut grass, the salty whiff of the morning beach—and the pungent stink of body odor. Like it or not, these are all familiar smells of summer. You take the good with the bad, I suppose, and I’ve always loved this time of year.

As we have all realized, body odor and slick, slippery skin soaked in the sweat of summer is best shared only with someone you love. But when it’s summertime on the dance floor, things can get a little intimate—and not in always the best way.

So, the debate rages on: Sleeveless dance wear in summer, yes or no?

Pick your side

This time of year – especially during heat waves like we’ve already had in Kansas City this year – you can break a sweat just by brushing your teeth in the morning. On those days, a vigorous dance like swing or a cha cha can really get you dripping.

Sweaty arm pit

Photo courtesy of giphy.com

So, then, is it appropriate to wear sleeveless shirts on the dance floor? I say, absolutely not. I realize I may be in the minority, but no one wants to wrap their arm around their partner and be rubbing up to bare skin slick with sweat. In fact, I’ve witnessed many male dance teachers washing off their forearms because they smelled of a pungent combination of body odor and competing deodorants.

For many dance instructors like me, it’s a matter of manners. The Toronto Swing Dance Society has a list of items they’ve dubbed “Social Dance Etiquette,” and they address this particular topic:

“Leaders (and at times ladies) should not wear sleeveless shirts and other tops that would force a dance partner to rest their forearm on a sweaty, slippery arm. If you become excessively sweaty while dancing, bring changes of shirts (ladies included). Maybe consider an undershirt to absorb perspiration or bring a small hand towel to dry off in between dances.”

There are two sides to every story, of course, and you’ll no doubt encounter plenty of dancers and instructors who see no problem with sleeveless dance attire. Whether it’s a matter of personal comfort or personal expression, you’ll see a lot of support for sleeveless on some of the dance forums:

  • “Do guys really have a problem with that? I think you get a lot sweatier when you wear something more covered up. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to dance with me.”
  • “I think you should wear whatever makes you comfortable for social dancing. As long as you take care of the daily hygiene…”
  • “You feel cooler, more comfortable when you’re not wearing much because it’s easier to move … Sleeveless is the way to go!”

Hmm, maybe I’m getting outnumbered here, but I still think it comes down to basic courtesy!

Tips to manage your sweat

Because we have to agree to disagree on this one – or at least concede that everyone has a different opinion on the topic – the more helpful idea may be to share some tips about how to cut down on the sweating and stinking on the dance floor. After all, no one wants to smell you or see giant pit stains, so here are just a few tips I’ve picked up over the years:

  • Just like good dance shoes are a wise investment, spend a few extra bucks on dancewear that wicks sweat away from your body.
  • Drink water! It’s so important to stay hydrated both before and during class.
  • Always keep a small towel with you at class to wipe sweat from your arms and hands.
  • Stay away from spicy and pungent foods like jalapenos, onions and garlic on the day of class and the night before, which can make your sweat smell even worse.
  • If you’re wearing sleeves, look for darker colors or patterned tops, which hide sweat stains more effectively.

We all have our own opinion on the sleeves vs. sleeveless debate, but the important thing to remember is the same thing that applies to all aspects of dance: Be mindful of your partner, respect their boundaries and communicate with each other. That way you’re sure to always start out on the right foot.

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. You won’t find her in sleeveless dancewear this summer, but she’s happy to help find the right outfit for you. Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.

Don’t Let ‘Kansas City Nice’ Stifle Success

I left the studio the other day during rush hour and was delighted (yet not surprised) to witness some everyday acts of courtesy: drivers letting other drivers go first when they needed to merge, waves of thank-you, and a refreshing lack of horn honking (especially as compared to other cities).

Call it Midwestern hospitality or “Kansas City nice,” but we’ve cultivated a real culture of politeness, humility and friendliness here. Many of us were raised to value respect and modesty, and we show it through an aversion to confrontation and plenty of self-deprecation. I love hearing people from other geographic areas remark, “Everyone is so nice here!” And I love that what little traffic I hit on my drive home is relatively stress – and conflict-free.

But there’s maybe a downside to this mentality. As dancers, we’re often too humble to consider that our skill level could ever reach that of dancers from the coasts. And the value we put on modesty keeps us from celebrating one of our own who excels and then celebrates that success.

Middle of the country, not the pack

In an interview with KCUR 89.3, Kansas City native Rashaan Gilmore shared some of the key characteristics of the “Kansas City nice” culture:

  1. Polite friendliness
  2. An aversion to confrontation
  3. A tendency toward understatement
  4. A disinclination to make a fuss or stand out
  5. Emotional restraint
  6. Self-deprecation
  7. Envying people behind their backs
  8. Resistance to change
  9. Passive aggressiveness

The station also talked to a sociologist who highlighted some of the specifics of how this mindset manifests itself:

“KC etiquette favors being in the middle of the pack. Being first to do something new is risky, from a politeness standpoint … Being nice is part of our self-concept. It’s something we aspire to, as a community.”

We can do itBut when you combine that middle-of-the-pack mentality with a little splash of envy, you end up feeling resentful of others, without the self-confidence to become better yourself. Soon after I began dancing ballroom, I decided I needed to leave the Midwest to ever have a chance at a successful career. But I made it back here in the hopes of developing future generations of dancers to be better than those of us in the past. We have to combat this pervasive attitude of disgruntlement about those who succeed. “You think too highly of yourself,” I hear people say. And all I want to say back is, “No, you think too little of yourself.”

After all, regardless of where you live, our bodies and minds are all capable of the same skills. Gone are the days of lugging heavy video cameras on our shoulders to capture choreography and counts. Technology has leveled the playing field in many ways, including the dancing world.

The balance and the dance

Dancers face self-doubt around every corner, regardless of what city you call home. And the very competitive nature of many types of dance can only make the issue worse. Dr. Brian Goonan explains this phenomenon in Pointe magazine:

“Early in their careers, dancers don’t have a fully developed sense of self yet. They form their view of themselves based on the perception and feedback of others. And they can end up taking in a lot of negativity.”

But developing a healthy dose of self-confidence can have tremendous benefits to your dance development. The trick is to combine that self-confidence with some of the best traits from the list above—those quintessential Midwestern qualities we all hold so dear. Achieving that balance is, well, sort of a dance, but attaining it allows you to stay true to who you are without holding yourself back at the same time.

And there’s no reason to hold yourself back! No reason to hold others back either. After all, as we propel Midwestern dancers into the spotlight, we pave an easier path to greater success for the rest of us.

It’s like the old adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Because, after all, even in the Heartland with no ocean in sight, we all could use a little boost.

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. While she has a bit of a lead foot, like a true Midwesterner she always lets another waiting driver go in front of her. Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page

The 3 Learning Styles of Dance

My friend recently enrolled in a photography class—once a week, group setting, for six weeks. He was excited to develop his shooting skills, but even though the instructor encouraged lots of individual practice between classes (and even recommended one-on-one instruction when the group class was over), life got in the way. So, at the end of six weeks, my friend only retained a portion of what he’d learned—and promptly forgot much of the rest a few months later.

We’ve all been there: Maybe it was the German you studied so diligently in college but then never used again living in K.C., or those piano lessons you toiled over as a kid. I’ve learned that sometimes it takes a variety of learning methods and environments for new skills to really stick.

Dance is no different, but unfortunately, I see students all the time who, like my photography friend, devote quality time and good intentions to one class, but then fail to both apply those lessons and take the next step of learning.

Get with the Group

That’s not to say you can’t learn a lot from each individual approach. After all, group classes are great for learning basic movement. They’re more affordable than private lessons, and usually focus on one dance at a time, which is great for beginners who don’t want to feel overwhelmed right out of the gate.

Group classes also allow you to practice what you learned in the last class before you move on to the new steps. I’ve found that many of my group students need that refresher time, learning from the teacher and also watching the others. And of course, group classes put the “social” in social dancing, as Leon Turetsky points out on Passion4Dancing.com:

“It is very normal for students to make friends at their dance classes because they see them every week! The social atmosphere makes learning how to ballroom dance fun and interactive … It allows people to get to know one another and it also makes them learn from each other.”

Keep in mind, however, that because group lessons are a little more crowded, it means you’ll receive much less direct attention, so I always recommend two classes per week for my new students. That really helps you lead and follow a variety of partners, which in turn helps you learn more quickly!

Private Dancer

Finished your group lessons? Now’s a good time to narrow your focus and invest in some private lessons.

One-on-one attention is the perfect way to work on your specific needs. You have more time to discuss your technique and to ask any questions. (I’ve also found that students are much more likely to ask those burning questions they might be embarrassed to ask in front of a group.)

Plus, unlike group classes, private lessons are set to the pace of the individual, so you won’t be held back by students who aren’t learning as quickly (or, conversely, be forced to move on to something new when you haven’t mastered the previous lesson). The byproduct of this customization is faster progress; your teacher will be able to spot any roadblocks you’re encountering and help you clear them quickly.

Private lessons are generally much more convenient as well because you’ll likely be able to set a date and time that work best for you. And while private lessons are generally more expensive, that private time is so valuable. I recommend once a week, but if budget is a concern, you’ll still benefit from once every other week, or even once a month.

Where the Rubber Meets the Dance Floor

Now that you’ve learned in both a group setting and in a private lesson, it’s time to walk the walk. I love our Friday night dances because they really allow our students to see how well they can perform in a social dance environment. Is this a rumba? Who should I ask to dance? The lights dim, the spotlights are bright—it’s a very different environment from the class setting, but it’s crucial if you want to apply what you’ve learned. Now’s the time to do this with purpose!

social dance night at Overland Park Ballroom

Plus, our teachers are there to help and to critique how you perform—and identify what you need to work on in your next lesson. These types of events also allow you to meet other students and see the various styles and levels of dancing, which is great for anyone new to social dance. It really helps them see the bigger picture and decide how proficient they want to become!

Just as learning a language is much easier if you can immerse yourself in the culture, hearing and speaking it regularly, dance should be tried and applied as much as possible, especially in the first six to eight months. It’s not just a new skill; it’s a new language your body must learn, and we want to help you become fluent!

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. Like children, she loves all of her class settings the same, but wants to see you at all three. Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.

The Next Steps After Your Dance Studio Closes

As the owner of my own dance studio, I’m obviously very invested in the success of our facility. But before I was a studio owner, I was a dancer. And while other studios in town may technically be my competition, I’m always saddened when I see one close down.

closed dance studios

The reason? Because when a studio shuts its doors like one did recently in our area, about half of those dancers will actually stop dancing. They’ll move on to another recreational activity and may never slip on their dance shoes again.

I get it. It’s hard to shop studios, find a teacher that jives with your style, get on a lesson routine that works with your schedule. But while a studio closing is certainly inconvenient for its students – and definitely a loss for our community – it’s most certainly NOT the time to stop dancing!

Expect (and embrace) different

So, your favorite studio just closed, but let’s pretend I’ve convinced you that you still have lots of tango left in your toes. What now? Remember a few basic truths as you shop around for a new dance home:

  1. Beginner, intermediate and advanced are subjective terms. There’s no quantitative measurement for dance ability and understanding, so while you may have been the most skilled at your last studio, you could be considered in the middle of the pack at a new facility. But that’s OK!
  2. Teaching styles are as individual as the teachers teaching them. Every dance instructor has a unique method to his or her madness, and each studio has its own way of working with students. While it’s always jarring to learn a new teaching style, try to stay adaptive and open to a new method. Sometimes a different approach is the most effective way of advancing your dance education.
  3. Change is hard, even when it’s fun. No one likes their routine disrupted, but just as you got used to your last studio, you’ll adjust to a new one. Embrace the opportunity to meet new people, explore a new neighborhood or learn new steps in a completely different way.

A few more search tips: Does the new studio provide what you need for a good lesson experience? Pay attention to the floor quality, the sound system, the amount of space you have to work with. Meet the teachers and the staff; are they professional? Do they seem prepared and on time for your lessons? Is there a manager involved in the students’ development? There’s a lot to take in, but think of it like buying a new car: You have to get beyond just your favorite paint color if you want to find a reliable vehicle that will stand the test of time.

Stay on the floor

Of course, sometimes you can take all the right steps (no pun intended) while choosing a new school and still end up with a bad partner. Don’t give up! You got into dance for a reason, and this is not a time to throw in the towel.

In the words of Dr. Amy Johnson, “Most decisions in life are reversible. If you don’t like the choice you made, choose again.” We’re blessed with many fantastic dance studios in the Kansas City area, and our communities support and encourage social dance. Take advantage of our local resources and explore a different facility or a new teacher. Plus, after learning what you don’t want in a studio, you’ll be able to find what you do want that much more quickly.

The most important point to remember: Just keep dancing. I mean, nothing against tennis or badminton or jogging in the park, but the dance floor is a lot more fun.

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. While she’s an experienced dancer, she’s also a studio owner, and if you’re looking, she’s love to have you join her! Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.


Why You Need Dancing Shoes (and Why You May Not)

Not having much to do on a recent Saturday, I was invited to watch one of my nephew’s soccer games. If you’ve never been, 8-year-olds don’t really play soccer as much as they just run around in a big group chasing the ball. Nevertheless, I tried to keep my eyes on my nephew and pay attention to the game, but the poor little guy kept slipping on the grass each time he tried make a quick turn. It wasn’t his fault entirely, however. Turns out he forgot his cleats, and his regular sneakers just weren’t cutting it.

Of course, in this particular game, there were really no winners or losers (except those of us who spent the hour on the sidelines), but it made me realize how important the right equipment – like shoes – can be.

Dancing’s no different: Sure, you can still participate in your sneakers, but are you going to dance as well as possible? Or will you end up chasing the ball and never actually catching it?

Dancing shoes? Really?

I get this question a lot: Do I really need to buy dancing shoes? No, of course not. My nephew didn’t seem to mind that he was slipping and sliding all over the grass. He was having a great time just being outside on a sunny day with his friends! You can likely be just as content – and may not even realize a difference – on the dance floor in your regular shoes.

In fact, I recommend that beginners wait on the dance shoes when they’re first starting out. After all, there’s really no need for special footwear when you’re still learning the basics. Just wear something you already have at home—a lightweight dress shoe for men or a flat to low heel for the ladies. Just don’t wear those big work boots, guys; they make me a little nervous about my own toes! And ladies, stay away from those super high heels, like stilettos and platform shoes; they prevent the foot from properly bending during the dance.

Of course, if you find yourself enjoying your dance experience and you’re looking to move to the next stage of your development, it’s time to start upgrading your equipment.

Types of shoes

All dancing shoes are specifically designed to enhance your ability and dance experience. The Hartford Ballroom in Connecticut weighed in on this topic in a recent article:

“Good technique involves the ability to flex and point your toes, and maintaining constant contact with the floor in some way shape or form, be it a slight brush with your toe, or a full step that takes your weight. All this technique is virtually impossible to do in a regular shoe. Regular shoes have thick, inflexible soles that are frequently meant to grip the floor. They are made for walking, or for appearances, but certainly not for dancing.”

So, what kind of dance shoes exist and which are right for you? The first thing to remember is that you want a ballroom dance shoe; don’t get confused by the plethora of ballet and jazz shoes on the market. They often look similar, but a true ballroom dance shoe contains a steel arch that enables better foot control and proper support. Here’s a breakdown of the three types:

  • Latin shoes – For women, these are typically open-toed with a 1- to 3-inch heel. Generally referred to a “Latin sandal,” they’re generally recommended for ladies as a good overall choice. The men’s often have a 1.5-inch “Cuban heel,” but I usually recommend these shoes only for more advanced Latin dancing when more technique is required.
  • Standard shoes – For women, these are typically closed-toe pumps, with a centrally located heel that allows smoother backward movement. These are best for smooth dances, such as the foxtrot, waltz and tango. For men, standard shoes are usually a basic black Oxford shoe with laces. Make sure the heel is similar to a regular pair of your dress shoes.
  • Practice shoes – These are really optional, and for men, these don’t really differ much from the standard shoe. For women, practice shoes have a low heel with a flexible outside. You can even buy dance sneakers with suede soles that are extremely comfortable and great for swing dancing!

ballroom dance shoes

Now go put on your dancing shoes!

Ballroom dance shoes can be an excellent and effective way to up your dance floor skill. Plus, they’re a pretty reasonable investment—usually between $95 to $170 (anything less than that and I’d question the quality).

Just beware of the dance supply shops that normally sell ballet, tap and jazz shoes. They often don’t understand the proper fit of ballroom shoes. Be sure to talk to an expert in ballroom shoes so you can find a pair that not only fits you like they should but that inspires you to take your moves to the nest level.

After all, slipping and sliding around the grass is always fun, but finding the traction to kick the winning goal feels so much better.

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. She’s happy to teach you more about ballroom dance shoes and even sell you a pair at the studio! Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.


Lead, follow or…have it both ways!

I’m a big fan of dancing traditions—teaching a special father-daughter dance, relishing in the ancient art of Odissi, or watching the Charleston scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the 700th time. Yet, for all of the classic dance traditions I know and love (and teach), it’s also exciting to see what’s changing.

I recently returned from a West Coast swing event in Colorado. While I was there I attended two workshops as the leader and then danced socially at night as both the follower and the leader. I lead and followed both female and male partners.

This new trend is actually showing up in many dance styles. It’s now much more acceptable to openly choose to lead or follow. And while I’ve always used the terms “ladies” and “guys” during group class, teachers are now moving toward the words “leaders” and “followers.” It all may seem a little strange, but the traditional paradigm is evolving—and it’s exciting to watch!

A change to the usual

Of course, the rationale behind having a leader and a follower is fairly logical when you think about it. It’s pretty much impossible to have two separate dancers trying to make their own decisions and move independently. It’s all about coordinating and complementing each other, and that’s usually best achieved through those two traditional roles.

But that tradition has also placed women in the follower role the majority of the time, whether they want it or not. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a dance instructor call out to the ladies, “Don’t think, just follow their lead!” But that’s detrimental as well because a successful dance couple include two people working (and thinking) together, not just one dominating and the other submitting.

Country Western group class

Stefani Ruper discusses the subtle sexism that runs through many aspects of dance, including the traditional female roles, in a recent blog:

“Followers do by and large follow the movements provided by leaders, but they also suggest. They also subtly guide the course of the dance. They also, at high levels, use specific movements and kinds of tension in their body to indicate to the leader what they would like to do. They sometimes hijack and it is appropriate. If we taught leading and following like this from the get-go – as a pattern that was more interactional and less polarized than we think of it now – we might be able to help people have dances which are more like communicative exchanges and less like strictly ‘male’/’female’ role play.”

I’m by no means proposing the elimination of a leader and follower role in social dance; rather, maybe there’s something to be gained by everyone learning both roles?

Knowing both sides of the story

The old adage tells us we can never understand another man’s life until we’ve walked a mile in his shoes—or dance shoes in this case. By learning the challenges of a leader, for example, women can learn to be better followers. And the reverse is also true.

Leading is all about communicating subtle messages to your partner, like a shift of your weight or a slight hand signal. And following is all about receiving those signals and acting on them at a moment’s notice. What better way to improve the communication than by knowing both sides? Basketball coaches do this all the time: Each player is required to learn every position, and be able to run the plays from all five points on the floor. Only then can they truly have the whole picture in their mind when it’s game time.

One instructor in Vermont reports that the more gender-neutral language is going over well with his students. Not only does “leader” and “follower” help simplify his instructions, he said, but they also make all of his students feel welcome. And let’s face it: Not everyone even identifies with a particular gender, and the last thing we want to do is create a dance environment that doesn’t feel inclusive to all people.

Women no longer have to wait to be asked to dance, so there’s really no reason they shouldn’t have an opportunity to lead as well. As long as it’s making the dance experience more satisfying, I’m all for it.

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. She’s looking forward to the new documentary, “Alive & Kicking,” a new film coming April 7 that gives an “insider’s view into the culture of the current swing dance world while shedding light on issues facing modern society.” Looks like swing is back! Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.