The Perfect Fit: What Makes A Good Dance Shoe?

Except for artistic dances (classical without pointe, modern jazz, contemporary, oriental), where artists are often barefoot for optimum natural contact with the floor, ballroom dance shoe is often the dancer’s only equipment. And it’s crucial. Most dance shoe manufacturers offer fine-tuning options (heel type, half-size, heel position, foot width) to ensure the dancer feels as comfortable as possible.

Ballroom Dance Shoe

So, how do you choose the perfect pair of women’s ballroom dance shoes with the many options? Selecting the right fit for you means knowing what makes up a shoe.

Here’s a breakdown of a dance shoe.

The Anatomy of a Ballroom Dance Shoe:
A ballroom dance shoe is made up of a “mille-feuilles” of different elements:

The insides of a shoe:

  • The insole (known as the 1ère de propreté)
  • The mounting sole (called 1st mounting)
  • The lining (welt, inner lining, and the all-important shank)
  • The sole
  • Heel
  • heel cup (heel sole)
  • iron (for tap shoes only)

The top of the shoe:

  • The quarters (and their linings) cover the foot from the heel downwards, with, for men, essentially a tongue and a garant (pierced area for the laces to pass through).
  • The back of the shoe: baguette, counter, and zipper
  • The vamp (“front of the shoe”)
  • The vamp is a one-piece piece (unlike the quarters) that covers the foot from the instep downwards.
  • The toe (tip of the shoe)

The critical points of the shoe are the shank, the sole, the back of the shoe, and the toe cap. Most dance shoe manufacturers offer half sizes or custom-made shoes (after taking foot measurements).

The Essential Elements of a Shoe:

The shank:
The shank is critical in dance shoes, especially when the heel is high. Initially, this rigid piece running from the heel to the instep prevented the shoe from breaking in two (literally). But when it comes to dancing, the cambrion has another essential advantage: stiffening the shoe relieves pressure on the foot’s support muscles. So, in poor support, the more relaxed muscles can compensate more efficiently and avoid a sprain (especially at the end of the evening).

The sole:
There are two types of dances: support dances (rock, boogie, Zumba, acrobatic dances) and movement and pivot dances (standards, Latin, West Coast swing, tango). Depending on the type of dance, the sole will be of 2 different types:

  1. Support dances require a firm, secure footing. The sole is made of gum (plastic). The firmer the footing and the more slippery the floor, the more likely it is that soft rubber will be used (for better grip) or, on the contrary, harder rubber for grippier floors.
  2. Shift and pivot dances: These dances require acrobatics for linear shifts and good glide for pivots (when turning on one foot). The best material is buckskin. However, this material is fragile and prone to soiling (altering the grip). It is strongly advised to refrain from using them on dirty (or even wet) terrain, as this may cancel out all the advantages of the sole. A scraper can be used to remove dirt from these soles.

The back of the shoe:
The back of the shoe is often a source of blisters, so a dance shoe will have special care given to the heel counter to ensure ergonomic heel support and limit chafing. The hallmark of a dance shoe, especially for girls, is to have:

  • A counter to support the ankle and prevent sprains.
  • A strap to hold the foot firmly in the shoe.

There’s an additional element for women’s shoes: the strap, designed to hold the heel firmly in the shoe. Straps can be straight or crossed (as shown), providing different levels of support and comfort. Feel free to test the two methods to ensure your comfort.

Note: although straps are generally adjusted with a buckle, they can also be fitted with a discreet hook or snap fastener to make them easier to put on and take off.

The clap and the connection to the ground:
The forefoot slap is essential for comfort and support. Soft leathers with low stretch provide optimum comfort. The design of the clap is also necessary. Each manufacturer has its design, and it’s not uncommon to feel more comfortable with some brands than others, depending on the anatomy of your foot. The fit is essential, so dance shoes are often sold to the nearest half-size.

The ground connection is the set of materials separating the front of the foot from the ground. It generally consists of 3 soles, with the padding reduced to a minimum at this level.

  • Insole: Cushioned and deformable, its purpose is to follow the curves of the sole as closely as possible to deliver optimum feel and comfort.
  • The forefoot: The fineness and suppleness of the insole at the forefoot (after the shank) are vital for a good feel for the ground. The variation in rigidity (and even thickness) between the suppleness of the front of the shoe and the stiffness of the rear due to the shank should be felt.
  • Lining: the lining at the front of the shoe is kept to a minimum to ensure optimum contact.
  • Sole: a thin, turned-out suede sole is ideal, but beware of thickness, which, while increasing the shoe’s lifespan, will diminish sensations.

For support dances, the connection to the ground becomes a secondary element.

The heel:
The last important element is the heel. The higher the heel, the more difficult it is to get support, but the sleeker and more streamlined the silhouette. There are three types of shoes:

  • Flat (heel < 2cm)
  • Low heel (< 5cm)
  • High heel (>5cm)

With a few exceptions, low heels are broad-based, while high heels are pointed. Please note that some dance halls require protection for pointed heels (which can scratch the floor). The less support there is in a dance, the more backward or gliding movements there are, and the easier it will be to wear high heels.

Adjust the heel position from neutral (under the center of the heel) to slightly shifted back for more excellent stability.

Share this Article!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.