Buying Ballroom Dance Shoes

There’s nothing like having the right tools for the job.  You’re learning to dance and you’re determined to be good at it.  You decide to take the next step.  Now you find yourself buying ballroom dance shoes.

There are a few things you need to know before buying ballroom dance shoes.

All ballroom dance shoes have a suede sole.  This provides just the right amount of slip and grip.  These shoes are not made to wear on the street.  You’ll want to make sure you don’t step in water, grease, or dirt while wearing them.  Most dancers carry a shoe bag with them and change into their dance shoes before they start dancing.

The shoes you wear depend on the style you’re dancing.

There are four different ballroom dance styles.  They are:

  • American Smooth 
  • American Rhythm
  • International Ballroom
  • International Latin

First, let’s look at men’s shoes.

Ballroom and Smooth

For the gentleman, the shoes used in International Ballroom and American Smooth styles are the same.  They are smart-looking Oxford lace-ups.

Available in black leather or patent leather with a 1″ heel, they give stability and comfort to the ballroom dancer as he takes long strides in Ballroom and Smooth dancing.  We’re looking for a close fit, sort of like a glove.

Latin and Rhythm

Men’s Latin and Rhythm shoes are also the same.  The style is similar to the Ballroom/Smooth shoe, however, there is a big difference in the heel.  While the Smooth/Ballroom heel is 1″ and flat, the Latin shoe has a 1.5-2″ Cuban heel and a flexible sole. This is to position the body properly over the balls of the feet allowing for the rolling ball-flat footwork required in Latin and Rhythm dances.  

Ladies have more to consider.

  • International Latin/American Rhythm
  • International Ballroom
  • American Smooth

Just about all women have a love affair with shoes.  It’s no different when it comes to buying ballroom dance shoes.


The recommended first shoe is an open toe sandal.  These shoes are used in Latin and Rhythm dancing, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a new dancer to use them for Ballroom and Smooth as well.

The ladies Latin/Rhythm shoe has a flexible shank.  This allows her to point her toes creating a long, lovely leg line.  The heels are specially placed to give her a forward poise with her weight balanced over the balls of her feet.

Heels vary in height, but most common are 2-3″.  Many choose 2.5″ to start.  Heel shapes run from stiletto to flared in a variety of widths.   A flared shoe tends to give more stability.  Nevertheless, personal preference rules.

The fit will be snug with the toes coming to the end of the shoe.  Initially, this will feel strange, but it is important as it affects the shoe’s performance.


International Ballroom shoes are closed toe pumps. The heels are placed to create an easy backward movement for the lady.

One of the main features of the International Ballroom style is that the couple never separates.  They will maintain the closed position throughout the dance using long flowing steps to express the music.  Because of this, the lady will need the security of a closed toe and support of a less flexible shank.  buying ballroom dance shoes Ballroom


American Smooth is an extremely expressive style, combining the stunning closeness of International Ballroom with the stylish open movements of the Rhythm dances.  The partners will separate a good deal of the time thereby giving the lady has many opportunities for kicks and a variety of leg lines.  Accordingly, she requires a different shoe.

Like a Ballroom shoe, the Smooth dance shoe has a closed toe.  The two main differences are that the sides will be open and the shank is more flexible.  This shoe is a cross between a Ballroom shoe and a Latin/Rhythm shoe.  buying ballroom dance shoes Smooth

A few more things to consider when buying ballroom dance shoes.


To ensure a snug fit that gives you ample support, it may be necessary to purchase your dance shoes in a size smaller than usual.  If you find it impossible to wiggle your foot around in the shoe, then it’s just right.  That does not mean the shoe should cause you pain!

Many ballroom dance shoes are made in Europe and will be sold in European sizes.  Shoes from the United Kingdom and Italy are very popular.  Your salesperson will know how to convert to American sizes.  If you’re ordering online, be sure to consult the chart on the website.

By the way, some ballroom dance competitions have an area set aside for vendors of all sorts of ballroom shoes, supplies, and accessories.  It is a great place to visit when buying ballroom dance shoes, as the purveyor will be an expert in fit and style.


Although men will normally gravitate towards a basic black shoe for dancing, women have choices.  For social dancing, you may decide on red, silver, gold, glitter, animal print, embellished, etc.  You name it, they make it.  Competition dancers will often stick with a flesh-colored shoe to visually elongate the leg.  

I hope this guide helps you make the right choice when you find yourself buying ballroom dance shoes.

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