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  • Writer's pictureDawn Matthews

Choosing Your First Pair of Dance Shoes for Modern Jive or Ballroom

Updated: Apr 17


buying dance shoes - blog banner. Image shows sparkly dance shoes on dancers feet

Buying your first pair of dance shoes can be a tricky thing, and I’ve had a number of conversations recently with a few new lady dancers, who have been thinking about the type of shoes that they might like to buy, but aren’t sure about yet. There are so many to consider – especially when you do a quick search online, and you see the number of options out there. I thought I’d share my experience of buying dancing shoes after dancing for fifteen years, such as which styles of dance shoes are good for beginners, where to buy them, and how much you need to spend. This is my personal experience, and of course, I’m not an expert, so if you find something different is the case for you – that is absolutely great.


Guys, if you’re still here, you can stop reading now – I’m going to be talking about shoes for lady dancers in this post. I’ll take a look at the best shoes for men to dance in, in a future post, when I’ve had chance to talk to some of my local dancers.


Do You Actually Need Specific Dancing Shoes For Modern Jive and Ballroom?


Buying dance shoes isn't essential. The main thing you need to ensure is that the shoes are going to be comfortable, and to let you turn easily so there’s no pressure on your joints. For the first five years (at least!) that I was dancing, I used a pair of relatively low heeled court shoes that had an elastic strap over the arch of my foot that I bought from Matalan and cost me maybe £12. (I went and bought a second pair, so my dancing was covered for quite a while!) They were ideal for me as a beginner, and actually, they really lasted in a way that my suede sole shoes don’t.


For me, the main thing is that whatever shoes I’m dancing in have to have enough slip on the floor for easy turning in. I know some lady dancers that like a small heel, but find suede soles make them spin faster than they are comfortable going. Those Matalan shoes I used to dance in were perfect, because they didn’t have any real grip on the bottom of them. I never wore them anywhere but the dancefloor, but they were the sort of shoe you certainly wouldn’t wear in icy conditions because of the lack of grip.


If you have a pair of shoes that you already find comfortable to dance in, you can turn any pair of shoes into dancing shoes with a pair of BLOCHspot stickers. You get 10 in a pack, and while I’ve not tried them, an excellent dancer that I know says that each pair lasts weeks (depending on how much you dance, I guess!). All you need to do is stick them to the underside of a clean shoe, and they turn the shoe into a dance shoe. If you’re nursing an injury and need to dance in trainers temporarily, these might be helpful, although for the price I’d probably order a cheap pair of dance trainers.


What Are The Benefits of Buying Dance Shoes?


Since dance shoes have been designed, and made from materials that make dancing much easier, it just makes sense that a pair of dance shoes will make you dance better. Many styles have a suede sole, which means that you can move on, and feel the dancefloor better, and allow you to have more control over your footwork. And you'll look, and feel the part!


What Styles of Dancing Shoes Are Suitable for Modern Jive and Ballroom?


There are absolutely loads of styles of shoes that are suitable for modern jive and ballroom dancing, and there are benefits to all of them. I’ve talked about the glamourous ones first, and the super comfortable ones second – although there will be some styles that cross over, so these definitely aren’t categories you need to consider fixed.


High heeled dance shoes with a flared heel


These are my personal favourite style of shoe, and if you like dancing in a heel, these are the ones you’re likely to be looking at. You can find loads of different styles and colours, including open and closed toes, and different heel heights.


They’re chosen by many lady dancers because they’re really glamorous – rhinestones, glitter, and luxurious fabrics like satin are often seen on this type of shoe. They usually have suede soles, which help you move and turn on the dancefloor more easily, and the flared heel gives you a bit more stability than a thinner heel or a stiletto.


However, although these are my favourite shoe, they aren’t for everyone. Anyone who isn’t used to wearing heels, doesn’t have great balance, or has problems with their hips, knees, or ankles will probably want to avoid these, or look for a slightly lower heel height. If you’ve had a long evening of dancing, this type of shoe can leave the balls of your feet feeling sore, which is why if I know I’m dancing for a long time, I will tend to choose my dance trainers instead. Finally, this type of shoe can tend to get a bit smelly if you don’t like wearing tights or footsies. (I’ve found using tea tree oil inside mine will kill bad smells for a while, but that’s quite a strong smell by itself!)


Cuban heels


If a high heel isn’t for you, but you still want a glamorous looking sandal or closed toe shoe, then Cuban heels can be a great choice. They tend to be around 3cm and have a block heel, with a suede sole, so they are equally as easy to move across the dancefloor in. They’re perfect if your balance needs a bit of help, since the block heel is good for stability. The only downside to this style is that they maybe don’t look quite as glamourous as higher heels, but there are plenty of gorgeous sparkly styles to choose from! Also, watch out for them getting a bit whiffy if you don’t wear socks, tights, or footsies with them.


Greek sandals


Want a flatter shoe entirely, but with a suede sole? Then a Greek sandal is a good choice. They tend to be slip-on styles, and they’re easy to wear, comfortable, and look good with most outfits, whether you’re wearing trousers, skirts, shorts – whatever. There are loads of different colours available, with glitter and sparkles if you want a bit of glam too. The downsides to Greek sandals? Well, some dancers don’t find them quite as supportive as other styles of shoes, and of course, if you’re not wearing tights or footsies then like the other styles above, you might find they get a bit smelly.


Practice shoes


If you dance ballroom, and there are older dancers around you, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen these styles. They tend to be lace up in style, with a Cuban heel. Dancers who like these styles choose them because they’re really comfortable and provide lots of stability, since they hug the foot completely, and they have suede soles for easy movement across the dancefloor. The issue – which you might notice – is that they tend to look a little bit old fashioned, and not quite so good with shoes and dresses, although these practice shoes by Katz Dancewear have just the right amount of sparkle, so there are exceptions to the rule!


Toms


I’ve only really seen Toms on Ceroc dancefloors where SILC dancing is taking place. They’re not designed to be dance shoes, but a lot of SILC dancers seem to like them. They’re a low profile, comfortable canvas espadrille style shoe with loads of colours available. Some have rubber on the soles, so if this type of shoe appeals to you, then you’ll need to check that they’re slippery enough to allow you to move. You won’t be wearing socks with these, so watch out for those not-so fresh smells! Finally, when you go searching for them, you’ll see that they have a distinctive style to them, which might or might not suit your personal style.


Split sole dance trainers


These are great if you want super comfortable dancing week in, week out. I love mine and live in them on weekenders. The split sole makes them more flexible, but they do feel a bit odd until you get used to them. They don’t have suede soles, they’re either rubber or plastic, and have a spin spot under the ball of your foot, which makes them easier to turn in. They are a chunky style though, and they tend not to be as glamorous – so if you favour skirts and dresses, this might not be the choice for you. That said, they are available in a range of colours, with a sporty look, and they tend to be affordable; I’ve bought pairs brand new on Amazon for less than £15, and they do last well. And of course, you’re likely to be wearing socks, so they won’t get quite as stinky as some other styles of shoe!


Low profile dance trainers


If you’re looking for a comfy style but like to be able to feel the floor, then low profile dance trainers might be for you. These give you all the comfort of a trainer, but have a suede sole. They are really flexible, easy to dance in, and many styles are slip on, so you can be ready to dance really quickly! Again, these give you a sportier look rather than glamorous, although you’ll find plenty of different colours if you search online.


Dance boots


Dance boots have started to be popular in recent years, since they are available in a number of different styles. According to dancers that have invested in them, they are comfortable, with those all-important suede soles. They’re not quite as easy to find, and the main brand that sells them – SwayD – is expensive, and you’re looking at over €100 for a pair even when they’re on sale. Their website says that they may take up to four weeks for delivery too, and you may need to pay import duties, depending on where they’re sent from. They're not going to look right with your more glamorous outfits though, so I'm not sure I'd recommend these as your first pair of dance shoes.


Which Shoes Are Unsuitable for Dancing?


While you don’t have to invest in specific dancing shoes, there are some shoes that you really shouldn’t be dancing in. Here’s what I’ve learnt:


Stiletto heels are a big NO, for three main reasons.


1. You can’t dance in them properly – they don’t give you anywhere near enough stability, and you can’t transfer your weight appropriately. They simply won’t make you into a great follow, and they also put your ankles at risk, if you misjudge a turn.


2. They are outright dangerous on a busy dancefloor – the chances of accidentally being stepped on are high on a busy dancefloor anyway, and a stiletto heel can cause really big damage to another dancer’s leg or foot.


3. Stilettos damage wooden floors – and so many venues won’t allow you to wear them to dance in for that exact reason, even if the dancefloor is quiet.


Open backed shoes and slingbacks


You need your dancing shoes to stay on your feet securely, and these styles of shoes simply won’t give your feet the security you need.


Any shoes without straps


High heels, flats, it doesn’t matter – if the shoe isn’t attached to your foot properly, there’s a chance of injury, and your dancing will suffer.


Wedge heels


Wedge heels might be comfy, but they don’t allow your feet to move the way they need to, especially for dancing ballroom, where you need to rise and fall from heel to toe.


Flip flops


This should go without saying, but I have actually seen guys dancing in flip flops on Ceroc dancefloors! The advice about shoes without straps stands here, but as a follow, wearing flip flops definitely won’t make your dancing shine, since you won’t be able to turn properly.


Shoes with rubber soles


Trainers aren’t the best for dancing in as a follow, since they won't allow you to turn easily – although there are a few ladies that manage to pull off dancing in Converse and Vans style trainers. If you want to be able to wear a trainer you already own, take a look at those BLOCHspot stickers I mentioned earlier.


How Much Does a Pair of Dance Shoes Cost?


Most ladies have an idea about what type of shoe they might like, but are a bit hesitant to splash out on their purchase until they are a bit more certain about whether they are going to continue to dance, or until they know the style that will really suit their feet. The good news is, you don’t have to spend a fortune unless you really want to. I have never paid more than about £35 for a pair of dance shoes, and there are certainly plenty of options that are less expensive than that too. I've recently bought shoes for less than £10 on Temu, and honestly, they are as good as the ones I've spent more money on.


There are plenty of styles that will cost you over £100, if you’re feeling flush and really want to invest – but since I have never spent that amount of money on a pair, I can’t say if it is worth it. Do your research and check the reviews before making your decision.


Which Heel Height is Best?


This is absolutely a personal choice. Flat shoes are absolutely fine, if you prefer a flat then Greek sandals are a good choice, as are some of the lace-up suede sole shoes out there. You don’t have to compromise on style – there are plenty of gorgeous glittery styles available! If you want a closed shoe that is much more comfortable, you might prefer a pair of dance trainers.


Some dancers love a really high heel, but generally speaking, it is hard to dance for a long time if your heel is taller than the natural curve of the arch of your foot. You want to be comfortable when you’re dancing, and you definitely don’t want to end up injured because you’ve worn shoes that are too high.


Which Dancing Shoes Do You Recommend?


It depends on the situation, but most of the time I prefer a closed toe sandal with a suede sole, with a heel height of around 5-6cm (2 inches). This is the style that I go back to over and over. I find them true to size, and I have owned at least four pairs of this style in various colours. There are several brands on Amazon that sell them - I have found HROYL and MINITOO are the best quality.


I go back to this style because they are comfortable, don’t feel like they will come off like some sandals do, and although I don’t love the buckle (the easy on/off catch is a bit fiddly compared to a regular buckle) they are the best ones that I’ve found for me. I’ve seen more than a few other ladies rocking the same style! In terms of the way they look, I love the sparkle – even the black pair I had and wore to death had enough sparkle to catch the eye. They’re inexpensive at around £35 (depending on the Amazon seller and how they charge postage or are on Prime), so I’m happy to pay for new ones once or twice a year. I like a closed toe sandal because I know I get a little extra protection from accidental toe stamps, but mainly because if I need to paint my toenails, I don’t need to panic!


If I’m having issues with my knees or calves, or I’m going to be dancing for a really long time such as at a weekender, then I will usually bring out a pair of split sole dance trainers. I bought the Roch Valley Split Sole Sneaker last year, and they really have served me well through three Ceroc weekenders. After Storm in March, I felt like maybe the support was getting a bit worn out, and so when I was browsing dance shoes and stumbled on the Capezio DS19 Women's Websneaker for £11.50 on Prime, I figured they were definitely worth a go. And for the price, they’re really not bad at all. I don’t find them quite as comfortable as the Roch Valley ones, but I’m not sure if that is just because I haven’t worn them in enough yet.


For fancy occasions, I’ve got a pair from the Jia Jia brand on Amazon. I like these for ballroom dancing, rather than modern jive and Ceroc, as I find I get really painful feet if I try and jive in higher heel heights – I think my heavier steps are the cause!


Which Are The Best Dance Shoe Brands?


I think this is one of those questions that it depends on what you’re looking for. I like to get the best possible brands at the lowest price, because I know I’m pretty hard on my dance shoes. These brands tend to have styles that I’ve either tried, or had recommended to me.



These aren’t necessarily the best for you though – you might stumble on a pair from a little no-name brand that are perfect for you, so don’t stress if you can’t find a pair from these brands that suit you.


Where Can You Buy Specialist Dance Shoes?


I tend to buy my dancing shoes from Amazon, searching for suede sole ballroom dancing shoes for women. However, there are plenty of other places to try. You’ll find dance shoes on Light In The Box, eBay, and many others if you just search online. Temu have some incredible deals on suede sole dance shoes too.


I know that buying online isn’t for everyone. If you like a good old try on session, then finding a dancewear specialist is the way forward. Relatively local to me, there’s Felix Dance & Leisurewear in Littlehampton, and there’s Dance Rocks in Horndean. I’ve heard excellent reviews for both, but I’ve never managed to get to either place. Search your local area, and there's sure to be a gem.


Tips For Buying Dance Shoes Online


I’ve been buying my dancing shoes online for years – usually from Amazon, with many coming from China. Here are my tips for finding exactly what you’re looking for.


  • Try different search terms. I recently searched for ‘Cuban heel shoes for dancing women’ and found a whole bunch of higher heeled styles that didn’t come up for me before that I’d like to try, and at a better price than my usual search results.


  • Use the filters to search by heel height and average customer rating, as well as price. Personally, I don’t consider any that don’t have at least 4 out of 5 stars, and I wouldn’t buy if there wasn’t a review yet.


  • Always, always check the reviews – pay attention if customers say that a style comes up small, or if the sole doesn’t last, for example.


  • You can search reviews on Amazon to find those that specifically mention modern jive or ballroom, but don’t forget there are overlaps between different styles of dancing, so if a line dancer or Zumba fan mentions they’re great for turning, chances are, they will be for modern jive too.


  • Check the measurements, and that they will your feet before you order. Many styles from China don’t quite match up with UK sizes, so this is an important thing to check.


My Final Thoughts: Your First Pair of Dance Shoes


There’s loads to think about when you’re choosing a pair of shoes for dancing, and it can be overwhelming! If you’re a brand new dancer, the main advice I’d give you is to not spend too much on your first pair, until you figure out what sort of shoe you actually like, and then you can upgrade to a more expensive pair if you want, or need to. And if you do end up with a pair of shoes that isn’t as perfect for you as you’d hoped, don’t worry. There’s almost always someone at your local dances who will buy a pair of shoes that have been worn only a couple of times, and if not, selling them on eBay or Vinted is always an option too.

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