A few words about dancing on Maui and dance shoes from Dance Professional, Rita O’Connor:

We are grateful to have a few dance spaces that can accomodate my popular (and large) dance classes on Maui, most notably, the Kihei Community Center! Unlike many mainland studios with 100% hardwood or laminate floating floors in spacious rooms, many of our dance spaces and places have linoleum or smooth cement. For the beginner student dancing on the available dance floors on Maui, a lightweight, smooth-bottom sole is adequate whether it’s from Famous Brand Shoes, Macy’s or a high-end shoe store; you can choose your price range.  That being said, there are a few things to consider when deciding your shoe of choice (dancing barefoot is not a smart choice since the oils from your feet will create more “stick” between the dancer and the medium; bare feet are not allowed at the Academy or Private Image Dance Studio):

Since the Maui surfaces are hard (on your feet, knees, back, etc.) for some people, it would be wise to slip a cushioned insert into your shoe for maximum comfort (keep this in mind when you decide on the size of your shoe). Linoleum and smooth cement floors do not provide an ideal gliding surface (such as the flooring at Private Image Dance Studio), so you are looking for a smooth bottom shoe that allows you to do the “twist” (i.e., swivel your foot on the floor without “grip”); leather or smooth-finish man-made bottom is fine. A shoe should remain on your foot and snuggly (but not uncomfortably) so you can “feel” the floor; a “slippa”/flip-flop or ladies’ mule is not a wise choice; make sure (man or woman) that you are secured in the shoe and can’t fall off or out of the shoe.

Shoes should be chosen not only for appearance but also for comfort, support, performance, and protection. Some dance shoes are built poorly; in particular, look out for sharp edges near your ankle and for interior seams that will abrade your foot. Dance shoes are very helpful for control and obtaining better performance. One can go for a while using regular street shoes, but once a dancer wants to reach a certain level of performance; proper dance shoes make a world of difference. Dance shoes are made to be lightweight, flexible, yet supporting enough for balance and control of movement. Dance shoe is also an extension of your body, which can help create a better bodyline and technical appearance. In addition, dance shoes will give you better posture, placing your center more over the balls of your feet, rather than back. Other features found in dance shoes include specially designed straps for added support and style, a soft and seamless leather lining, and suede sole.

Men: a leather bottom dress shoe is ideal if you are not going to purchase a “ballroom” or “latin” shoe (explanation below). Otherwise a lightweight shoe with a man-made sole is fine, just make sure it doesn’t have grip or is heavy because of the thickness of the sole (thinner is better when it comes to the bottom of your dance shoes). (Unisex) Dance sneakers (these are not regular sneakers) are the exception because they are thick but very light weight!

Ladies:  Open-toed or closed-toe? The answer is simple…whichever you feel prettier in; it has no bearing on whether you’ll get stepped on…not getting stepped on is about good dance technique learned from a professional about how to move as the leader or follower; so  ladies, go ahead and get the peek-a-boo toe or sleek sandal look you like! Rita’s note: Ladies, I DO NOT recommend the “Mary Jane” character shoes/tap shoe style. They are too stiff and heavy and difficult to dance in. High heel (2.5″ most preferred; 3″ for the show dance floor) or low heel? Another simple answer…whichever is more comfortable for you. Living in Hawaii, usually in flip-flops, heels can be daunting for the woman who is not used to wearing them. Many times I suggest bringing two different heel heights to change throughout the evening if you are not used to wearing high heels. These are all personal preferences. (Unisex) Dance sneakers (these are not regular sneakers) are another option because they are thick but very light weight! Color? I always prefer a neutral/natural color to go with everything! It makes your legs look longer (black shortens your leg line and tends to draw attention “down” thereby making you look shorter).

Now, onto “ballroom” and/or “latin” shoes: In short, dance shoes are made for dance floors (see above) and dancing: they are lightweight, very thin soles, many are supported with a metal shank for added stability and are always “pretty” or “handsome” and have a suede bottom (ideal for wood surfaces); most are a pretty-penny, too! EVERY dance shoe manufacturer is different and it may take a while for you to find the manufacturer(s) that best suit your unique feet. We do not have a dance shoe store on Maui (and those that offer them have to order them for you, so you might as well browse the internet and look at all the manufacturers and style options you have at your fingertips)! I do not recommend one brand or another, but I will list the traditional, well-known dance shoe manufacturers who I have danced in for 30+ years are highly respected among serious dancers. Then I will list some websites either myself or my students have used with great success (many times getting the “name brands” on sale at these other locations. Check the return and/or re-stocking policies of the manufacturer (sometimes the restocking fees are 75% or more of the purchase price). See if the manufacturer can ship you 2 sizes (you will pay up front) knowing that you will return the one that doesn’t fit as well. All of the manufacturers will not take back a worn shoe…some even indicate “a speck of dirt” will disqualify the return as “not worn.” My suggestion (I’ve been doing it for decades): put down a clean towel on the floor (even if you have carpet – we live with red dirt everywhere on the island); put the shoes on; stand up in them (stay on the towel) as see how they look. Now to dance in them “off the towel!” With your shoe on, put a clean pair of crew socks OVER your foot (it won’t be pretty, but you will have a thick, clean surface protecting the suede bottom of the shoe). Remember, you have an extra slippery surface (with the sock) on the floor – be careful!

Ladies Ballroom (closed toe court shoes) and Latin (open toe sandals): Leather will last longer with proper upkeep; satin will shred over time, but is still the preferred material of competitors, performers, etc. Leather is the “work-horse” of material – ideal for students. Because ballroom & latin shoes are a “second skin” to our foot, they should fit very snuggly without being uncomfortable, and it is usually recommended that you purchase them a half-size smaller than your usual shoe so that your toes are “almost” over the edge and you can “feel” the floor. Dance shoes are not about “roomy and cushy” but about being a part of your foot more than anything else. That being said, remember to leave room for your inner sole padding if you are dancing on Maui and that dance requires action, so if the shoe is too loose you might get blisters. Some women find the full-sized heel to be more stable and therefore more comfortable for general dancing, especially for Salsa and Swing dancing. But most women also find that ballroom shoes are so well made that even the pointy-heel models are stable and comfortable. In women’s shoes, you face the choice of straps as well. Strap is another way to provide support. A strap that comes around or across the top of your foot is recommended for most dancers.

Men’s Ballroom (Standard “dress shoe” style with lace up front and 1″ heel) and/or Latin (higher heel for more forward pitch): Leather or patent leather? For most purposes the leather shoe is more than perfect. Save the patent leather for your tuxedo or tails, a performance or competition (they are harder to upkeep and have some unique difficulties to dance in for beginners). I recommend the Ballroom (or “Standard”) dance shoe unless you want more height as a leader or you are dancing Latin at a higher level (because there is a 1-1.5″ higher heel than you are used to and these shoes take a little getting used to). Leave them for later! Wearing a lightweight trouser hose/sock is best for dancing (lightweight).

Practice Shoes (for women): Tends to look like a man’s Latin shoe, lace up and enclosed; usually 1.5″ wide heel.

Unisex Dance Sneakers: For classes and informal dance venues, you might try a dance sneaker. It is a strange and comfortable sneaker built for dancers, with a rubber-compound split sole that includes a turning spot under the ball of your foot. It dances quite well, and dancers from all traditions tend to love it. It is a casual look and you can wear it on the street as well as the dance floor, but it is a smooth bottom “sneaker” made specifically for dancing – best on wood floors, but (depending on the floor’s condition) can be worn on other surfaces. Very comfortable, but not always the prettiest with dresses (however, “at a certain age” sometimes comfort trumps fashion, so we leave it to YOU to make the best choice for YOU!) Some styles come in pinks, blues, etc. if you want an option to black.

Suggestion: IF you are dancing ONLY on a non-traditional dance floor, or a wood dance floor which is not exclusively used for ONLY Latin and Ballroom dancing allowing ONLY Latin or Ballroom suede bottom dance shoes, you may find week-by-week, the surface may range from sticky, to slightly difficult to turn, to slick (the nature of the Maui dance spaces – even the wood floors); add in humidity and it gets more complicated. IF you have knee, ankle or back injuries you may find that you need to create a “faster” dance connection between your feet and the floor. Since you cannot change the floor options, here are some things you may want to consider on the bottom of your shoes (NOTE: this option and most others will change your suede bottom shoes permanently):  purchase sheets of self-adhering moleskin (Long’s CVS brand is very inexpensive) and cut them out to the exact specifications of the ball of your dance shoe bottom, peel off the “label”, then adhere to the bottom of your shoe – please NOTE: that if you choose to remove the moleskin you will have a sticky, gummy surface on the sole of your shoe. I designate one neutral colored pair of shoes to have the moleskin bottom to wear when surfaces are too sticky – this method does not add weight to the shoe and gives the most glide on a tough surface (like painted plywood).

Dance shoes are typically made and sold according to European shoes sizes, which are generally but not always 1.5 sizes smaller than their American counterparts. That is, a man who wears an American size 10 will usually wear a European size 8.5. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, so it’s best to check with the manufacturer or distributor you are ordering from.

If you have additional questions in areas I didn’t cover, please email me at ritaoc@hawaii.rr.com! Happy feet – Happy dancing!

LOCAL Vendors:

Currently, there are NONE on Maui. Ladies, I DO NOT RECOMMEND purchasing dance shoes from Wailuku Dance Supply. They will sell you theatre “character shoes” and tell you that they are ballroom shoes – they are NOT! These shoes are stiff and heavy and your feet and legs will be fatigued and sore. Ballroom & latin shoes should have suede bottom and soft, flexible sole for movement.

Well-Known Manufacturers (for over 30 years): 

Showtime http://showtimedanceshoes.com;  SupaDance    www.supadance.com;  Champion www.championdanceshoes.com ; Werner Kern www.wernerkern.com ; Diamant (German Company – shoes available through various distributors); Dance Naturals from Italy  http://www.dancenaturals.it/en/collections/; Freed www.FreedofLondon.com ; Capezio www.capeziodanceshop.com;  International http://www.Internationaldanceshoes.com.

Reputable Distributors:

Carmen’s Dance Shoes www.CarmensDanceShoes.com; Toe-2-Toe Dance Shoes  (specializing in hard-to-fit feet; x-narrow through x-wide) www.toe2toe.com; Parti-Time Dance Shoes   www.parti-time.com

Other Dance Manufacturers:

Lightinthebox.com (Dance Shoes); Very Fine Dance Shoes;  http://www.VeryFineShoes.com; Apple Shoes  http://www.AppleDanceShoes.com

I have not used any of the following sites, but  am just passing on the information (please give me feedback if you use the sites):

Other North American Mail-Order Dance Shoe Vendors

Store Telephone Store Telephone
Ballroom Connection (408) 773-8833 DanceShopper.com none listed
Ballroom Dance Supply (408) 871-1895 DanceStore.Com (410) 990-0009
Best Ballroom Shoes (585) 259-9680 DanceShoesStore.com (888) 800-8388
Elandanse Dance Shoes (888) 600-9091
Dancesport Shoes (402) 689-9987 Elegance Shoes (818) 788-3216
CK Dance Shoes (239) 418-1117 Let’s Dance (914) 632-0428
Dance Connections (800) 881-3262 RioHot.Com none listed
Dance Distributors (800) 33-DANCE(717) 234-3572 Dance Express (800) 292-1510(212) 399-0465

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