There are lots of different manufacturers and styles of dance shoes on the market. First, let’s briefly look at some types of shoes generally available for dancing, but not particularly suitable for swing dancing.
Ballroom Dance Shoes. Ballroom dance shoes have very little lateral and arch support, and often little insole cushion. The soles normally have a very thin layer of suede leather on the sole. Ballroom Dance Shoes are easily ruined if used on something other than a nice, smooth, clean wooden or tiled dance floor.
Character Shoes (named for their use in musical theatre by actresses/actors performing “in character”). These shoes have a very generic look and almost always come with very hard, leather soles. Character Shoes do not have built in cushion insole. Although not as “stylish” looking as ballroom shoes (they tend to make one’s feet look “clunky”), Character Shoes are sturdier and hold up better. They are okay for dancing in night clubs where you can put them on in the car, walk in wearing them (no need for shoe bags), dance, and leave without having to worry about sidewalks, spilled drinks and dirty dance floors that would ruin Ballroom Dance Shoes.
Jazz Shoes. Made for jazz and modern dance, these type shoes can be purchased with split sloes for more flexibility. The soles will normally be rubber, chrome leather (suede) soles, or a chrome leather sole with a rubber heel. Like ballroom dance shoes, these type shoes are light but lack much lateral and/or arch support.
Dance Shoes For Swing Dancers
If you do a lot of swing dancing, it’s certainly wise to invest in some dance shoes (and cushioned insoles) that provide comfort, support and the proper sole for slides, hops, jumps, swivels and spinning (especially the ladies, who often do a lot of spinning!). Dancing can take a toll on your knees, ankles and legs if you don’t have good shoes. Overall, you want shoes that let you pivot freely (to avoid knee and ankle damage), but not let you slip and fall. Let’s look at some shoes made specifically for swing dancers.
Recommendations for shoes. See the info below in the section on “Where to buy….” for specific recommendations.
Vintage Shoes. In my view, vintage shoes are one of the best choices to make when looking for dance shoes. Yes, they are harder to find, and cost a bit more than “regular” shoes. But often times shoes from the 1930’s/40’s/50’s were made much better than shoes today, and of course, that vintage look is hard to beat. A word of caution: before you start purchasing vintage shoes, get educated on the subject. Talk to other swing dancers that wear vintage shoes to get advice on where to buy vintage shoes (a lot of times on Ebay/Etsy) and other any advice they may have. Yes, that will take some time and effort, but it’ll be worth it!
Cushioned Insoles. A good pair of cushioned insoles are worth their weight in gold. There are lots of name brand and off-brand insoles on the market. Some people will buy their shoes slightly bigger (perhaps an half size bigger) to give them more room. Insoles come in relatively flat versions and those with combinations of molded heel cup and arch support. You can even add a “flat” type cushioned insole under the combination type to really increase the cushion and support.
A note on Athletic Shoes with Chrome Leather Soles. Some swing dancers wear athletic shoes. These shoes have lots of layers of rubber and foam that really cushion and support your feet. However, as we all know, athletic shoes are built to “grip” the floor, and if you try to dance (or do any turns or spinning) in rubber soled shoes you can easily hurt or injure your knees or ankles. So what’s a (partial) solution? Chrome or a hard leather sole.
Take a pair of your stylish athletic shoes (preferably with a flat sole, i.e. not running athletic shoes) to a shoe repair store and have chrome leather (note thin suede leather) or a hard leather sole bonded or glued on. Once again, ask for the thicker chrome leather or a hard leather sole, and not the thin suede that is often used on ballroom dance shoes.
Note you can also use the “Chrome Leather” or “Hard Leather” solution on lots of other different shoes that give you good support, such as two-tone spectators, bowling shoes, vintage shoes, etc. In Lexington, Bluegrass Shoe Repair off Lane Allen Road does a nice job of applying thick chrome leather or a hard leather sole to various styles of shoes (see info below).
Lastly, note the big disadvantages of wearing tennis shoes with chrome leather or even a hard leather sole are (1) it’s difficult to do heel and floor slides and (2) they’re tennis shoes, an informal style shoe, that doesn’t look good with more formal clothes, i.e. a suit, jacket, etc…