What Are the Best Shoes for My Dance Classes? With Pictures!

Strappy red heels with laces

I’ve recently gotten a few colleagues excited about taking some Tango and Salsa dance classes and, understandably, as first-timers they want to know what kind of shoe they should wear. Firstly, everyone should let their doctors know they are taking dance classes, especially if there are any health/physical concerns.

Barring any health concerns, the short answer is: 

  1. a comfortable, medium-thin heel
  2. a sole that slips enough that you can turn easily 
  3. supports your feet and ankles
  4. get insole cushions! Trust me, you will love me for that morsel of advice.

If you can afford and are willing to invest in professional dance heels right off the bat, go for it. Comment at the bottom for contacts for shoe vendors in Miami, Broward and West Palm Beach. (Note that professional dance shoes cost between $80 – $400 and that the straps on most professional dance shoes will break and you’ll have to get those repaired, so it’s an economic commitment.)

But let’s get an important question out of the way before we jump into the characteristics of the right shoe for dance: 

Heels. A dreadful abomination for the women who have abandoned them or never really liked heels in the first place. 

Q: Do I even have to wear high heels to my dance class? 

A: Oh joy. You can go in sporty shoes – but you want to choose wisely so as to avoid injury! We’ll explain.

“Injuries in tennis shoes” you ask? “How is that even possible?” 

Running shoes are meant to grab onto the floor, especially grassy and concrete floors in all kinds of weather. So when you are doing a Salsa or Bachata turn, for example, or are doing any kind of shines, while your upper body is spinning, your sport shoe is doing it’s job: it’s trying to keep your foot in place. Let’s look at the repercussions and please take this mental picture: 

“In sport shoes, while your upper body is turning with great force, your foot is stuck to the ground. Your poor knees and ankles will take the brunt of your body trying to go in opposite directions. This goes for men as well as women.” 

So if you want sport-like shoes, find some with small, light, smooth soles that won’t stick to the ground when you turn. I avoid street sneakers of any sort and opt for “jazz shoes” from a professional dance shoe vendor. They have soles that don’t grab on as much to the floor, and also offer a nice, free archway that will allow your foot to bend. And yes, these are great for Zouk, Bachata, Salsa, Tango – all of the dance classes!

Split sole jazz shoes.
Split sole jazz shoes are a great alternative to sneakers
if you don’t like to wear heels to your dance class.

Instructors/Dance Floor. Everyone wants to stay on their instructors’ good side 😉 Black-soled shoes leave skid marks on the dance floor, which triggers your instructor’s OCD, their fury and resentment as they meticulously rub away your scuff marks to keep their (“Precious“) floors shining at the end of a long night of classes.

"My Precious" meme

Future: If you are considering dancing as part of one of their dance teams, or could even possibly consider dancing in a presentation or for your wedding etc. you most likely will want to do this in heels, so get yourself accustomed by dancing in heels in the classroom.

With the question “do I really have to wear heels during my dance class?” thoroughly answered, let’s move on.

Q: How High Should My Heels Be?

A: Your heel should be comfortable and stay out of your way.

There isn’t really a heel that is too low, however a heel that is too high could result in injuries and cramps. A thick, clunky heel can also get in the way, possibly make you trip and get heavy. 

Too high: If your foot cannot bend because the heel is so high, it’s simply uncomfortable, isn’t it? A heel that maxes out your instep forces your feet muscles to be contracted the entire time you’re dancing or walking and it is a very painful struggle to maintain your foot in that extremely high arch without any relief.

Also note that in those types of heels nearly 100% of your weight is on the balls of your feet. Again, that’s difficult to sustain for longer than an hour while dancing and soon you will feel the pain. 

Block heels: Sure, you might get a steady step with a block heel, but you’ll find you’ll literally be tripping over it. Block heels are heavier than regular heels, so in one hour your legs will feel that extra weight and you’ll be slow. Does not meet the comfy factor.

Heel placement: Some dancers like a straight line design for the heel, which falls directly under the heel of the foot, while others hate it. Some shoes have a curved, or indented heel, which most women find the most comfortable, but some designers push the heel deeper into the shoe, very close the arch, which for most women is too uncomfortable. This is very personal and has everything to do with your natural gait.

Try them out, see what feels most comfortable. Most women find more stability and comfort with a curved heel. Designers will place the heel in different depths, so test out your shoes.

Soles: Professional dance shoes have soft suede or leather bottoms so you can turn easily. If you’re not willing to invest in professional dance shoes yet, try to emulate that idea by getting shoes that have smooth soles. As mentioned, you should normally avoid rubber-soled shoes, but if you know you’ll be on slippery floors, you can get shoes that’ll will grab the floor just enough not to slip’n’slide. 

Flexible Soles vs Lots of Straps: One primordial rule is that your foot must be able to bend. If it cannot bend, again, your feet will hurt and cramp up.

Q: Can I wear my platform shoes to dance?

Platform heels on a dance floor + serious dancers = an accident waiting to happen.

A: If you care about your feet, legs or posture at all, absolutely not. Do not wear your platforms out to dance or for your classes. PS You’ll look like Frankenstein dancing.

If you’ll note, most professional dance shoes are closed in the back and leave the arch open so that your foot can bend. This is particularly attractive if you are performing and put your foot en tendu (pointing your toes). 

Raquel Professional Dance Shoes with plenty of space at the arch for bending.
Great on the stage, for photographs and performances.

Because my ankles are flexible and not very strong, personally, for social dancing and classes I prefer many straps, and even semi-enclosed shoes because they offer more support. I would wear the shoe on the left, and would avoid dancing in a shoe that has jut one strap, like on the right.

Strappy heels versus heels with only 1 strap.

Laces? There are some gorgeous lace-up shoes that normally do a great job, but the laces tend to loosen up during the dance and that’s not good for supporting your ankle. Also keep in mind that women have often tripped with their heel getting caught inside of the loop. Um. Yes. Moi. It can be dangerous!

Wedges? I’ve danced comfortably in a wedged sandal. It provides stability, yet is thin enough to keep out of the way although it makes me just a tiny bit slower by the end of the night. A wedge heel is not recommended for training for performances because it will make you, well… lazy.

Professionals wouldn’t wear wedges, but they are comfortable, light and easy to dance in, especially strappy ones like above.

And the one piece of advice you will love me for that is going to save your feet: INSOLES and CUSHIONS on the plant of your feet. They are cheap and are worth many more times your investment. Super glue them if you have to, but a cushion will help you dance longer!

In sum: Stick to “comfortable,” think about how your feet will feel after dancing for at least a few hours – and buy that cushion. If we care about our feet, back and legs in the future we look for shoes that will support us the best. Also, at some point consider where you’d like to go with your dance. Is it going to be strictly social or do you think you might join a performance team, start teaching or perform?

About the author, Dalia.

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