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Ballroom and Latin Dance Shoes for Beginners
When you're a complete beginner at ballroom dance, it's understandable if you're reluctant to buy proper dancing shoes. Why invest the money, until you are sure you'll take it up seriously? However, bear in mind that if your shoes are very unsuited to dancing, it affects how much you enjoy the dance as well as how well you can do it. So if you're struggling in class, you may find that buying a basic pair of shoes could transform your experience.
Ballroom and Latin dances require you to swivel on the balls of your feet. If your shoes have patterned rubber soles, they'll be inclined to stick to the floor and prevent you turning. That will make it hard for you to get the “feel” of the movement – and it can also damage your knees, because your legs will be trying to swivel while your feet can't! If your knees twist, you may tear your cartilage. So look for shoes with a smooth sole. Leather can be slippery, smooth composite is better.
They also MUST have a secure fastening - for men, lace-ups are best; for ladies, lace-ups, a T-bar or ankle strap.
Professionals do wear court shoes for ballroom dancing, but don't try it when you are a newbie, because there are three potential problems with wearing shoes you can slip your feet out of. One, if you are subsconsciously holding the shoes on, your feet are not relaxed and can't flex properly. Two, if the shoes are so tight so they can't fall off, your toes will be squashed and you won't have a solid "platform" to balance on. Three, your feet may actually slip out of your shoes while you're dancing!
For ladies, don't wear a flat shoe. Dancing in heels feels very different from dancing on the flat, and you need to get used to it from the start. In Latin dance, you want your posture to be leaning slightly towards your partner, and proper dance shoes are designed to help you do that.
Start with a small- to mid-sized heel, and closed-in toes to protect you from clumsy partners! Professionals often wear high strappy open-toed sandals, but it takes experience and good balance to dance in those - be patient and wait until you've built up your confidence and core strength.
When you're starting out, you can get away with one pair of shoes to wear for both Latin and ballroom. If you're going to do that, make it a Latin shoe, not a ballroom shoe. A ballroom shoe will be too rigid to dance Latin well, whereas you can dance ballroom in a Latin shoe. Save the satin ballroom shoe for when you're ready to take dancing more seriously!
This shoe from Very Fine has all the features of a good beginner's shoe - low heel, closed toe, secure fastening.
In most other dance genres, the soles of shoes are made of rubber or composite material. Hip-hoppers, ballerinas and Broadway hoofers all spin and twirl happily in their shoes - but for some reason, ballroom and Latin teachers think you can't turn unless the soles of your shoes are made of suede.
When I started learning ballroom, I found suede soles quite terrifying - because on the wrong kind of floor, it can be like walking on ice. It's true they are fine on a proper ballroom floor, but beginners are often learning in a church or school hall where the teacher has no control over the condition of the floor.
That's why my own personal view is that a smooth composite sole is a sensible, go-anywhere choice for a beginner, and much more practical than suede. You can dance on any surface without fear of damaging them. You can wear them to and from class, too (whereas suede soles have to be looked after carefully, and worn only in the studio). And if you decide not to continue dance classes, they're fine for street wear. You'll find composite soles on lace-up practice shoes, heeled jazz shoes, Broadway shoes and character shoes.
This character shoe has a composite sole suitable for wear outdoors as well as on the dance floor