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.