When it comes to the practicalities of the swing dance, a question that’s on most beginners’ minds is “What shoes do I wear?”. And not only beginners ask that, if we are being completely honest, so no need to be shy about it. All dancers find themselves from time to time in the search of new shoes, asking questions, opinions and considering options.
Finding the right shoes for dancing will help you advance and comfortably dive into the swing world with the right energy and feel.
Well, we are here to guide you through the world of swing dancing shoes. It’s not that difficult, trust us. We have several tips for you to give you a general idea of swing shoe requirements, and also a few comments from our fellow dancers.
Soles for Swing 101
For the beginners, Karri Rasinmäki, one of the founders of Black Pepper Swing, advises to use the most comfortable sneakers you might have at home.
It is easier and more comfy, with the added bonus of reduced slip ups and unwanted gliding - to put it short, it’s a safer option. Don’t worry, when you feel like you are ready to slide and glide, you can upgrade your shoe game.
Swing dancers have three options for soles: leather, suede or rubber. Keep in mind that they will affect your dancing and you have the power to choose how you’d like to feel and look on the dance floor. The more you use the shoes, the more slippery the soles will become regardless of the type – just keep that in mind.
Leather soles allow you to pivot, twist and slide easily, though it’s worth noting that on the wooden floor it might get very slippery.
In terms of grip, suede soles are between leather and rubber. It’s still slidey, but you get more stability than with leather soles. You can purchase a small steel brush for the soles to create more grip as well. Just make sure you don’t walk outside with your suede soles – they’ll be ruined.
Rubber gives you the best grip. It’s preferred when you are dancing to fast tunes, so it gives you the energy to jump and push forward, as well as stability which is important if you are performing aerials.
Different soles engage different leg muscles during dancing and depending on the soles you’ll have to adjust your body- and footwork. But in general, remember to keep your feet under you, have a strong core and don’t forget to prep properly.
So What Do I Pick?
We went to our community to answer that question and asked what Black Pepper Swing teachers and students prefer in terms of dancing shoes. Hopefully, their experience will allow you to navigate your needs and decide on preferences.
We’ll start with sneakers aka rubber soles. Our Lindy Hop teacher and avid Jazz dancer Kay Werndli is often seen dancing precisely in them. Rumour has it, he’s only dancing in sneakers, but we know for sure that he also owns a pair of leather shoes and Keds with a suede sole.
Kay is dancing in Adidas Stan Smiths.
But here are a few reasons why Kay prefers sneakers to dress shoes:
“First off, sneakers just feel more comfortable to me, so that’s a plus. Second, they work a lot better for my dancing. I’m more on the athletic side in terms of dance style and need some grip for that. The downside, of course, is that I can’t really do slides.” – Says Kay.
“Third, I think they are just more my style. I prefer to be more casual - after all, I’m going dancing for fun and suits are too serious for me. Moreover, most dress shoes are a lot longer and they make me feel slightly clown-like. Finally, I really like the sound of the ones I use. You can be very quiet and light-footed but if you do some taps or other rhythms, they just sound really nice.”
Maria Puustinen, who you most likely have seen and admired on the social dance floor, chooses her dancing shoes depending on her mood.
“For me, shoes really affect my style of dancing and there are different shoes for different moods. If I dance in sneakers, I will automatically dance in a more sporty and bouncy style. If wearing more feminine shoes with some heels, I tend to bounce less and connect to my partner in a different way, having more focus on a rotational connection created from the upper body - some call it a frame. I would also dance more upright and swivel more.”
Maria’s favourite dance shoes are leather boots from Savoy Cats that feel more in between when it comes to the dancing style and are comfortable for bounce and rhythm, as well as slide.
Adjusting Soles and Shoes Repair
“Suutari työssään” - Hakli, Kari (1973) - Helsinkikuvia.fi
It is important that your feet are supported properly as you dance, so what if you have a pair of perfect shoes but it doesn’t give you that slide and “oomph” feeling you are looking for? The answer is simple – you just adjust the soles.
The quickest solution (or more like a trick) is to attach duct tape to the soles and it will give you that slide you are looking for.
If you are ready to give the altering more time and effort, you can glue a suede sole to your pair of sneakers.
Here’s a little how-to from a community member Tiia Laukkanen who extended the life of her old shoes:
“I had a pair of old cheap sneakers where the rubber outer sole had started to wear off and they weren’t really suitable for wearing outdoors anymore. I washed them and glued a shaped piece of suede to the sole with contact glue (kontaktiliima). The suede was from an old suede jacket that I bought from a recycling centre.” – Says Tiia.
“The end result allowed for a bit more slide than the original rubber sole did, and they lasted for a surprisingly long time before the suede wore too thin. For the glueing, I’d recommend doing it outdoors because the fumes aren’t healthy. And for a nicer pair of shoes, I’d definitely recommend taking them to a professional cobbler to be resoled.”
Another example of altering shoes comes from a Lindy Hop dancer Matias Knip. Matias owns three pairs of dancing shoes, and he started off his Lindy journey in regular sneakers that still work well on slippery floors. Nowadays, his main choice for dancing is ankle boots from Swing It that are fancy enough for parties, but humble enough for practices.
“My third pair are loafers, and they are my precious ones – I only wear them at fancier parties. I bought them from a vintage pop-up shop at a festival in Tallinn. They were quite cheap when I bought them, but by now I have probably invested three times as much money in repairing them, as something breaks virtually every time I use them. What makes them even a bit more special is that Karri [BPS Co-Founder] noticed and complimented the shoes the very first time I wore them.” – Says Matias.
Heels vs Flats
Another question that we hear often is: “Should I invest in proper heels?”. And the answer is, well, depends on your preferences.
We talked about dancing in heels with two of our teachers – Anna Tyutyunyuk, Boogie-Woogie World Champion 2021, and Tanja Wingerter, BPS Co-Founder, who have different experiences regarding this matter.
Anna is actively dancing both in flats and heels, and the choice of shoes depends on the tempo of the song – “Normally I do slow ones (100-130 BPM) with heels and anything faster with good absorbing soft dance sneakers.”
Another thing that matters is your mood, as well as the way you want to look and feel on the dance floor, especially if you are performing.
“If I have my heels on, I present myself differently in a much more elegant and even almost mysterious way. And feel like I’m being special tonight. Though without my heels I’m still able to experience such emotions and present myself accordingly but heels always help me to achieve it easier.” – Shares Anna.
Tanja dancing in sneakers at Helswingi 2022.
As for Tanja, her preference for dancing in heels changed over time and now she’s mainly wearing flats.
“I discovered heels when I started taking balboa classes – I wanted to have shoes with a heel because that’s what I saw on my teacher. I found a pair of second-hand shoes with leather soles and a heel, and I fell in love with the slidey feel. They quickly became my favourite pair to dance anything in.”
“I was dancing a lot in those days. The joints of my feet started hurting and dancing in heels became somewhat impossible for some time. So, I switched to lower heels and flat shoes - even back to sneakers. So now, I mainly pick between slidey and sticky shoes for the styles, because higher heels are no longer an option. Also, my dancing has become energetic and jumpy lately, and soft trainers feel the most comfortable for that”
Anna in Diamant shoes competing in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Boogie Woogie World Championship 2021.
How to Choose Heels w/ Anna Tyutyunyuk
If you decide to buy a pair of nice dancing shoes with heels, here are a few tips from Boogie Woogie World Champion Anna Tyutyunyuk.
Her first tip is to not listen to any advice from shop assistants, especially if they don’t have experience in your line of dancing, – and it’s rooted in an unfortunate story.
“Sorry if I sound brutal but I bought the worst pair of my heels when I listened to an opinion and advice given by a salesperson. Shoes were tiny for my feet, and I wore them with pain and suffering. They never broke in the way the sales assistant said they would, and I never got comfortable even though they mentioned that “your big toe should be touching the floor while wearing those”. Not a great experience.” – Shares Anna.
The basic guideline for choosing your heels from Anna:
- Follow your true size
- Choose comfort on top of the style
- Pick shoes with suede soles
- Don’t rush your process and spend time choosing
And a pro tip for performances and late-night parties when you are already comfortable dancing in heels:
“I always had a rule of -1cm. For example, if I knew I was comfortable dancing with 6cm heels, I went for 5cm ones because even this 1cm out gave me +100% comfort and dance moves range I could perform effortlessly.”
When you choose your first pair of dancing shoes, you don’t have to be fancy and invest in styled shoes for swing dances. Start with your favourite pair of sneakers or Keds instead!
The soles of the shoes matter, if you want more stability and grip – rubber soles are for you. If you enjoy spinning and gliding, then try out leather or suede soles.
Dancing swing in heels can take a toll on your ankles and knees, so pay attention to your technique and choose slower tempos, rather than fast ones.
There are quite a few shoe brands founded by Lindy Hoppers, so if you feel like you are ready to make an investment – research your options. They also offer different styles, so that the pickiest of us could find a pair of shoes to become the ultimate favourite.
Stay tuned to learn which shoe brands are the most popular among Helsinki swing dancers – with names of the models and honest reviews, of course. If you’d like to participate and share your opinion, leave us a comment. Let’s share our knowledge bank inside the community 😉