Have you ever wondered what makes a good shoe in which to swing dance?
To hop or shuffle at ease, dancers must consider a number of things:
comfort, sole, heels, style.
The perfect fit is a must-have for dance shoes - a little too small and your feet will be sore, a little too loose and the ankles will suffer. If you have just started dancing, light and comfy sneakers are the best choice. If you forget that you are wearing shoes to begin with, that’s a good start!
If your soles or ankles are getting tired, try a different pair and if that doesn’t help, consider trying out sports insoles that offer extra cushioning and support for your feet.
If you have only practiced at our studio with it’s smooth and slippery floor, you may not have experienced problems with your soles. However, once you go out into the wild to dance on all kind of floors, your shoe soles are the most important thing. Sticky (rubber) soles are to be avoided because when you twist and turn, your knees and toes should move together and stay aligned to avoid injuries in the joints. Besides health considerations, smooth soles will help with more elegant spins and slides!
What hides under the swing dancers shoe?
- Hard rubber: some dancers choose for the hard ‘pebble’ rubber, that is somewhat smooth, but still has quite a lot of grip.
Some of the Keds have such soles - after I enthusiastically got a pair of those last time, I found it quite disappointing, as although they didn’t feel sticky, after a night of dancing I realized the turns had been very tiring. You can read more about Keds for dancing here. Hence the next quick fix:
- Duct tape: a temporary solution to smooth out sticky soles. But beware, wear duct tape responsibly! It wears off quickly and may leave marks on your favorite delicate shoes or on beautiful dancefloors, so think twice before using it. Event organizers or venue owners might need to be scrubbing the floors after you, whilst you will be sleeping tight after a good night of dancing; a no-no for Harbour Hop! For that, you still have some time to fix some of the ‘real’ dance soles:
- Suede: suede soles are my personal favorites! They are smooth and flexible, accommodating the full range of movement in the feet. The downside is that suede wears off - so you won’t be able to wear them outside of the dance floor, and will need to watch that they stay dry - if someone spills a drink on the dancefloor (how dare you!) and it makes your shoes wet, there go your spins for the rest of the night… Luckily this doesn’t happen too often. Suede soles get more and more smooth and slippery as you dance, and the more dust they collect - so dancers often carry around a little brush to make them more rough and clean before dancing. I like them smooth, so I have never owned such a brush!
- Hard leather: Hard leather is the smoothest of them all, can be worn on the dancefloor and out in the street and is probably the most durable option.
You will see swing dancers dancing in low and solid heels, for Balboa more so than for Lindy Hop. Heels vary in size for men and women shoes.
Just as when you walk, heels change the way you hold your balance and posture, and the same goes for dancing. You will move differently with the heels than with the flats - and holding the balance will be more challenging. The upside is, you will be forced to get more in control of where your balance is, and that will contribute to your dancing.
The downside is, if you haven’t yet mastered the art of moving yourself in full balance, with the right muscle strength aligning your body parts (feet, ankles, knees, hips) to hold the body weight safely, confidently and correctly, fast swingouts might be much less enjoyable, and more dangerous too. We all first learned to walk in flats before trying out the heels from our mother’s closet, and then it took another 10 years before we got ones of our own to hit the streets.
Keep safe and enjoy your Lindy Hop on flats before you feel ready for that extra challenge.
Screening the Lindy Hop videos on YouTube and looking around in the finest dance events, you will see the two most popular choices - the casual sneakers, and the more elegant vintage-inspired shoes.
So where do I get my next favorite pair?
The most popular brands among Lindy Hoppers are:
- Aris Allen: I have worn down a number of their black or white classic canvas sneakers with suede soles. I did think they wore down rather quickly - though they were inexpensive, If you can find them for purchase in Europe, without expensive extra shipping and tax costs, go for it! I’ve also owned two low-heels, the 1930s Velvet Oxford and the 1940s Mesh Mary Janes, and they lasted much longer. I love Aris Allen for their comfort and suede soles.
- When going for the style, on the more fancy side are the Remix vintage footwear - if your budget allows it and if you dare the height of those heels! Again, easier to get your hands on if you are in the US though.
- Saint Savoy and Slide & Swing are fresh European alternatives if you want to invest in the beautiful swing dance shoes.
And finally, the closest to home, the most personal solution is: find the shoes that have that perfect fit (and look, if that’s what you are going for), bring them to the shoemaker and have either a suede or a hard leather sole glued on.