Fitting My Dance Shoes
Ballroom dance shoes are no different from footwear equipment in other sports and dance disciplines like ballet, rock-climbing, bowling, etc. Therefore, it is very important that we size and fit our dance shoes correctly.
Generally, we wear our street shoes slightly larger to have some room to be comfortable, which is perfectly acceptable for everyday wear. Since we want our ballroom shoes to be more fitted all around, it is common for us to size down in dance shoes. There is no exact conversion, since we all wear our street shoes differently, but here is a general guideline:
- If you wear street shoes with little or no extra room, you can try the same size in most closed-toe styles
- If you prefer a bit extra room in your street shoes, it may be recommended to try a half size smaller in dance shoes to get the correct fit.
- Open-toe dance shoes are meant to be worn shorter than what we would look for in street shoes, so it is recommended to try about a half size smaller for open-toe styles.
- Since how we prefer our street shoes varies between different people, please keep in mind that some may need to size down more to achieve the correct fit in length.
**Note: A half size corresponds to about ¼ inch in length. Width of shoes are always proportional to the size.
The #1 mistake new ballroom dancers make is to size their dance shoes as though they were ordinary street shoes. Ballroom shoes may look similar to an ordinary shoe, but they are constructed very differently and are meant to be fitted in a specific way to allow us to perform the correct foot action.
It is normal for dance shoes to feel a bit tighter than what we are used to. Please give yourself some time using them and engaging in the activity to adjust to the fit and to allow for the shoes to break-in and form to our feet.
Ballroom shoes of any style should be worn with a snug, glove-like fit in width and length. We wear our ballroom shoes slightly shorter in length and more fitted in width than we would ordinary street shoes.
- We want to comfortably fill out the shoe as much as possible. Dance shoes are much softer and will stretch and give over time through usage.
We don’t want excess toe or heel room. Very little to no space in the shoe is ideal (think how gloves are fit on our hands). This is important so that once the shoes stretch out, there isn’t extra room to slip around inside the shoes as we dance.
- Ideal fit: In softer shoes, a more snug fit will give us more control. The shoes should feel like a part of the foot, like a second skin.
- Poor fit: A looser fit in softer shoes will be too roomy and feel sloppy. We don’t recommend this because you run the risk of over-working muscles in your feet to compensate or even injury.
What is an ideal fit:
- Toes reach close to or at the end of the shoe with no excess space.
- In an open-toe style, we want our toes to reach the end or come a bit over the front edge of the shoe.
This is important for Latin style dances, where technique involves pointing the feet. We do not want the lip of the shoe to be too long, which may catch the floor or impede in proper foot actions.
- Heels sit in the heel cup without gapping or excess room. Front of shoe (width) hugs as much of the foot as possible without gapping or excess room.
What is a poor fit:
- Extra toe room may result in a “sloppy” fit and can get in the way of completing our foot actions.
- Extra heel space means the heel cup does not hold our foot into the shoe and may result in instability or slippage, or unwanted rubbing, which can cause blistering.
A roomy, unstable fit can cause injury! Shoes that are too wide and roomy don’t hold our feet well enough. This causes us to overwork our feet against the shoe due to a lack of support.
**Note: Please use your best judgement based on these guidelines to find your best fit. We DO NOT recommend or encourage a fit that hurts or causes extreme discomfort. Please be aware that dance shoes will feel different from what we are used to in street shoes and will often take a period of adjustment, but they should not hurt you.
So what style should I look for?
The appearance of the dance shoe is less about fashion and more about the type of dance. Here is a very general guideline to the differences in dance shoe styles:
Open-toe VS Closed-toe
- Offers more support and is more structured than open-toe styles
- More support makes them ideal for proper technique in American Smooth and International Standard style dances
- Offers more flexibility and range of motion than closed-toe styles
- More flexibility makes them ideal for proper technique in American Rhythm and International Latin style dances
- Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, and various Swing style dances often fall under a similar family of dances; if more flexibility is desired, open-toe is recommended
Solid front VS Strappy front
Solid front styles:
- More material covering our feet provides more support and protection
- Extra support often means slightly less flexibility
Strappy front styles:
- Less material covering our feet makes the shoes faster to break in
- Strappier styles offer more flexibility and range of movement and articulation
Low heel VS high heel
- Offers more stability and is easier to balance in
- Great for practicing in or if you have injuries or weaker muscles and joints
Lower heels will shift more balance away from the balls of feet
- We generally want to be more on the balls of our feet when partner dancing to avoid being too “back-weighted”
- But lower heels will relieve some pressure from the balls of the feet if dancers are struggling
- Higher heels put our balance more towards the ball of the foot which is ideal for Latin and Rhythm style dances (or other similar styles)
- Higher heels also aid in proper posture for correct “Cuban motion” technique
Split-sole VS Full-sole
- Has a shorter shank to allow for more flexibility in the shoe
- Easier to point our feet for proper Latin/Rhythm style dance technique
- Has a longer shank, which gives shoes more structure and support
- Less flexibility, but will help better-maintain balance and stability
Differences between the buckle types?
There are a variety of different types of buckles and closures used across many different dance shoe styles. Which kinds are used typically depends on the choice of the shoe brand. For example, all of the Supadance brand shoes will feature quick-release style buckles, while others like Ray Rose will use traditional style buckles. Since the methods of adjustment and fixing and undoing each type of closure is different, it may be worth noting what kinds your dance shoes will use. However, no matter which kind, they all serve the same purpose of keeping the shoe straps secured around the foot while dancing.
- Simple and classic buckle style; these are familiar to everyone, but often takes a bit more time to do and undo
- Allows for quicker clasping and unclasping for faster changes in and out of shoes
- May take a bit of time to get used to for those unfamiliar, but just keep practicing!
- Tips: after you find your correct hole setting, there is no need to ever undo the buckle from the strap again unless an adjustment needs to be made. It's advised to keep the buckle on the strap, since it's easy to lose if left undone or removed.
Snap button buckles:
- A variation of the quick-release for easy on and off
- Allows for full customized adjustments without a need for hole settings to be punched in
- Tips: Adjusting the buckle to the right spot on the strap might be tricky at first! It might be easier to undo the entire strap from the buckle, slide it to the right spot, then slide the strap back through.
- Like the quick-release buckle, there is no need to ever undo the buckle from the strap again unless an adjustment needs to be made.
Differences between the strap styles?
There are many different straps used in dance shoe styles. Some of the most common types are the arch strap, the T-strap, or a basic ankle strap. Generally, the way the strap looks is completely an aesthetic choice, and all of them will do the job of securing the shoes to our feet while dancing. The arch strap is perhaps among the most common types of shoe straps for dance shoes and is known to provide extra security, since it wraps underneath the arch and back over the top of the foot. Many new dancers may not be accustomed to the look of the arch strap, but it is widely used in many different dance shoe styles for its added support and security.
- Wraps under the arch, then back over the top forming an X (often also referred to as X-strap)
- Offers added security with how it wraps around the entire foot
- Very versatile, since dancers are free to wrap the strap in any way--under the foot or even around the ankle
- Can also be cut to a shorter length to make a simple ankle strap
- A classic look that offers a bit more of a "vintage" aesthetic
- Offers added security to a simple ankle strap
- Some dancers may prefer this over the arch strap if they don't like the feeling of being "wrapped into the shoe" quite as much
- The most basic form of shoe strap that is simpler and easier to adjust
- While a classic aesthetic look, some dancers prefer having the added security in other strap styles
Practice shoes or no?
- Practice shoes are lower-heeled alternatives for dancers to train and teach in. They are typically lace-up styles with a wider shaped heel, offering more comfort for longer durations of dancing.
- Not everyone prefers to use practice shoes, but they allow us to execute certain dance actions and techniques more easily.
- They’re a great way to preserve our feet and our nicer performance or competition shoes! We recommend regularly switching in and out of your practice shoes to make adjustments easier back and forth.
We recommend highly that all dancers note the pros and cons of the different dance shoe styles. Dance shoes are not fashion wear, but are equipment. Please consider what types of dance styles you are practicing and what your needs are when choosing the right type of ballroom shoe.