Monday, June 8, 2009

Dance Shoes

Hi! Now I know that the title "Dance Shoes" isn't exactly what you would expect from a blog about Salsa Musicality, but I do get asked about shoes a lot, so here are a few thoughts. I hope they help!

Men's Dance Shoes

I find that light shoes are very important for me. Otherwise, when I spin, my feet fly out too far, and I am very late for the next move.

My idea type of "light shoe" is the jazz shoe:

These are basically like slippers/socks, that have a very soft light rubber on the heel and suede under the toes. While you lose some height (which is annoying for me because I am short anyway!), these shoes let you spin and spin and spin.

Other shoes that I have tried include the "sneaker type":

These are okay, but again, I find it hard to do shines, spins, etc in them because they are quite heavy (relative to jazz slippers and jazz shoes). They are good for doing hours of workshops in a row (i.e. your feet will not be as sore, but the tradeoff is you won't be as sharp).

Of course, there are standard jazz shoes as well. I used to dance in these shoes all the time. I felt a bit "stiff" dancing in these shoes, but the good side is that since they have heels on them, they force you to dance on your toes (a good thing, particularly if you have a tendency to put too much weight onto your back foot when doing a backstep). Here's an example of a normal jazz shoe:

The final option is to either strike it lucky by finding a good light pair of street shoes - here is my favourite type:

Be careful with non-dance shoes, however. The "grippier" the shoe, the harder it is to spin, and the more likely that it will cause knee damage. I notice that if I dance in normal shoes, often I will wake up the next day with sore knees. Ironically, I am nursing a very sore knee right now... I have been out of action for about two weeks due to an inflamed knee, caused by... you guessed it... dancing in street shoes that had too much grip.

If all else fails regarding finding dance shoes, consider taking a light, comfortable pair of street shoes to your local shoe repairer, and getting him/her to replace the sole with a "dance sole". Normally, you will get a choice of a synthetic sole (good for wearing outside as well as on the floor), or a leather/suede sole.

One note about leather soles: I have leather soled shoes for work shoes, and these get very very slippery once the leather has worn down a bit. These on slippery surfaces can be very dangerous - not just dancing, but walking too!

Women's Dance Shoes

Now what would I know about women's shoes? Don't ask, but let's just say that I know probably a bit more that I should. Here are a couple of pointers for anyone wanting to dance in women's shoes:
  • Don't use anything higher than a 2 inch heel. Particularly if you are a beginner, or are not used to walking in high heels.
  • Make sure you have very good ankle support. Make sure there is no chance that your foot could roll over the base of the shoe, causing a nasty sprain.
  • Look for what is known as a "salsa heel", which is a slightly wider heel than normal... this gives more stability.

The Dance Floor

One thing that will make a difference is the surface that you dance on. Marble and concrete is very hard on your calf muscles, while wooden floors are better. Dance halls, that have sprung floors, are the best... you can dance on them for hours and it's not that tiring.

Using talcum powder is a good trick if the floor is a bit too sticky (particularly if it is humid night). Putting a small pile of power in the corner of the room and then letting people stand in it to coat the bottom of their shoes works well, and prevents someone from having to pour powder out all over the floor (not all dancers want powder under their feet.


If you are into your salsa, sooner or later you will do performances in front of an audience. One thing that often catches people out is the surface of the stage, which often is not built for dancing, instead it might cater for musical performances (and be way too slippery), or could be designed for theatre performances where often the surface can be a kind of felt (for grip). If it is a felt surface there is nothing you can do about it really. However, if you find that the stage is way too slippery (make sure you test it out before doing your performance!), then here are a couple of (risky) tricks:
  • Pour some sticky fluids onto the stage and let it dry (Coca cola is good).
  • Dampen your shoes (if they are a leather/suede surface) with water about one minute or two before the performance starts.
Be warned, however, both approaches are very risky. Depending on the temperature, amount of lighting on the stage, you will only get a small window of time when the stage is good for dancing (as the fluid dries). When the fluid totally dries up, you will find that the floor/your shoes are even more slippery than before. So it's a risk.