Guide to Buying Ballroom Dance Shoes

The purpose of this post is to take the mystery out of buying ballroom dance shoes. Since you started taking lessons, the next step is to get proper shoes. Indeed, there’s nothing like having the right tools for the job!

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

Ballroom dance shoes have a suede sole.  As a result, they provide just the right amount of slip and grip to get around nicely on the dance floor. 

Dance shoes are not made to wear on the street.  By all means, avoid stepping in water, grease, or dirt when you’re wearing them. It’s best to carry a shoe bag and change into your dance shoes before you 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

Here’s an example of what you can learn to do when you have the right shoes. Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko competing in International Latin and dancing the Jive.

First, let’s look at men’s shoes.

Ballroom and Smooth

Gentlemen will wear the same type of shoe for both International Ballroom and American Smooth. They’re smart-looking Oxford lace-ups.

Men’s Ballroom and Smooth shoe

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.  In addition, we’re looking for a close fit, sort of like a glove.

Latin and Rhythm

Men’s Latin and Rhythm shoe



Men’s Latin and Rhythm shoe styles are also the same.  It’s similar to the Ballroom/Smooth shoe, however, there’s 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 shoe is designed to position the body properly over the balls of the feet allowing for the rolling ball-flat footwork required in Latin and Rhythm dances.  

When choosing dance shoes, women 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 ballroom dance shoes.

Latin/Rhythm

Most professionals recommend a Latin sandal for your first pair of dance shoes.  These shoes are used primarily in Latin and Rhythm dancing, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a new dancer to use them for Ballroom and Smooth as well.

The lady’s Latin/Rhythm shoe has a flexible shank.  This allows her to point her toes to create a long 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 the most common are 2-3″.  Many women choose 2.5″ to start.  Heel shapes run from stiletto to flared in a variety of widths.   A flared heel is a bit wider on the bottom and tends to give more stability.  Nevertheless, personal preference rules.

The fit will be snug with the toes coming to the end of, or even over, the tip of the shoe.  In the beginning, it’ll feel strange, but you’ll get used to it.

Ladies Latin and Rhythm shoes

Ballroom

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

One of the main characteristics of the International Ballroom style is that the couple does not separate.  They stay in closed dance position 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
Ladies Ballroom shoe

Smooth

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 giving the lady lots of opportunities for kicks and fancy leg lines.  Therefore, she requires a different type of shoe.

buying ballroom dance shoes Smooth
Ladies Smooth 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.  

There are a few more things to consider when buying ballroom dance shoes.

Fit

To ensure a snug fit that gives you good support, it may be necessary to select shoes in a size smaller than usual.  If you can’t wiggle your foot around in the shoe, then it’s just right.  However, that doesn’t mean it should hurt! Keep in mind that these shoes are notorious for stretching – a lot.

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, many ballroom dance competitions have an area for vendors of ballroom shoes, supplies, and accessories.  It’s a good idea to try shoes on there because the salesperson will be an expert in fit and style.

Color

A little bling never hurt no one.

Although men will normally wear a black shoe, women have lots of choices. For social dancing, there’s red, silver, gold, glitter, animal print, embellished, etc.  You name it, they make it.  On the other hand, competitive dancers will often stick with a flesh-colored shoe to visually elongate the leg.  Although, a little bling never hurts!

I hope this guide helps you make the right choice when you find yourself buying ballroom dance shoes. By the way, take a look at this Dance Safari post, “Improve Your Ballroom Dancing with These 10 Habits” for some tried and true advice on how to become a better dancer.

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3 comments

  1. Now you must be psychic haha. We have been having lessons for nearly a year and decided it was probably time for some shoes. I was about to search for this post, thanks Barbara 👍

    • My pleasure to be of service. Most likely your first shoes will be Ballroom (unless, of course, your instructor has another suggestion). For sure, you’ll love how they feel. Enjoy!

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