Whether you’re going for maximum performance and comfort or authentic vintage style shoes are a very important part of any dancers wardrobe. We’ll have a look at what options are out there, some popular brands, and how to find your perfect shoe!
You Gotta Have Sole
One of the most important features of your dance shoe is what’s on the bottom! You want a shoe that will allow your feet to slide around on the floor a bit but there’s a lot of room for personal preference here–some dancers like just enough slip to be able to spin easily while others want to glide through every move frictionlessly. At some point you will probably end up with a variety of shoes for dancing on different types of floors so that you can always achieve the perfect combination of shoe and dancefloor to create your desired amount of slippiness. Here’s a rundown of the basic options:
- Rubber: A rubber sole without too much texture (think plimsolls not walking boots) can be a great option for newer dancers and those who prefer a less slippery shoe. Rubber soled shoes are generally softer so good for those who are worried about stepping on their partners’ feet or have yet to master the art of floorcraft. Pros: Soft, durable, and easy to clean, forces you to pick up your feet and be more precise with your footwork, Cons: May be too sticky for some dance floors.
- Suede: So long as you have a suede brush you can have some control over the slipperiness of sueded shoes. Brush them regularly to give them a bit of grip or leave the suede to matt down for a bit more slip. You can purchase dance shoes with suede soles, get your favourite shoes sueded by a cobbler or even do it yourself with a bit of superglue. Pros: versatility, Cons: Do not get wet! Also hard to clean so not great on sticky bar floors
- Leather: Hard leather soles will give you the maximum slide on most floors, soft leather can be slightly less slippery but its not as hard-wearing. Pros: excellent for slides and slip slops, hard-wearing (hard leather), Cons: May be too slippery on some dance floors
- Split soles: Split soled shoes are popular for many styles of dance so you may see them around a bit. Rather than being one piece the sole is in two sections to allow your foot to bend in the middle. Pros: Can be very comfy, Cons: Prevent you from using your whole foot on the floor
- Heels: Heels aren’t strictly necessary for lindy hop but many dancers love the aesthetic. We would recommend flats to start with for most dancers but once you’ve been at it for a while you may want to experiment with heeled shoes. Wedges or chunky heels are your best bet. Pros: Can really change the look of your dancing, preferable for some styles like balboa Cons: Takes a bit of practice if you don’t normally wear heals, will have an effect on balance
- Sole Hacks: These are temporary solutions–none of them ideal but good to be aware of. Earlier in the revival dancers often put gaffa tape on the bottom of their shoes to make rubber soled shoes a bit more slippery. It is cheap and effective! Though you do have to keep an eye on them to make sure the tape doesn’t start to wear down and get sticky. Also once you’ve put tape on the bottom of your shoes there is no going back the sticky gunk doesn’t come off easily. Socks over shoes–some people seem to make this work in a pinch but it is a VERY slippery option. Talc–you may see some dancers put talc on the floor to make it more slippery. As a general rule, if you are sharing the dance floor with other dancers who have not consented to the use of talc PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. It changes the floor for everyone, and not everyone want’s to slide around like Bambi. Change your shoes not the floor.
Look the Part
If you want to go for an authentic vintage look. Here is a rundown of authentic swing era shoe styles.
For Men: Leather suit shoes are your best bet, two toned brogues are an authentic 30s style. Plimsolls are also an authentic vintage style for men and women as revealed in our last style feature.
For Women: Women’s shoes came in lots of styles in the 20s-40s. Heels were the norm for going out but flats are not inauthentic as there were sports shoes available with a very small heel. Iconic styles from the swing era include mary janes, oxfords, brogues, T-straps and wedges.
The Vintage Dancer website is a great resource with lots of photos of clothes and shoes from different eras.
Where to Shop
First Shoes: If you’re just starting out we highly recommend picking up a pair of cheap plimsolls from Primark. They are an excellent first dance shoe! If you want something a bit fancier Keds and Toms and also great for this style.
Shoe retailers popular with lindy hoppers in the UK:
The DIY Option: In our experience, even some of the more reputable brands of dance shoes can be very pricey and at the same time not very well made so another good option is to make your own bespoke dance shoes. Find a pair of shoes that are comfortable and have the look you want on the high street or wherever you normally shop for shoes. If the sole is already appropriately slippy then you’re done! If not, take your shoes to a cobbler who will be able to grind them flat if they are too textured, or resole them with suede, leather, or whatever you want (Cobblers are awesome). Voila the perfect dance shoe!