Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Any shoes to dancing shoes

Dancing shoes are a big investment for the beginner. This post may, if you are lucky, help you postpone that investment until you are sure you want to make it.

But the reason I'm doing it now is this: nobody sells nice, women's shoes, that are good for leading. Women's tango practice shoes are designed for following, but not for wearing with a dress. Alternatives are either too delicate (ballet shoes) or just horrible (dance trainers or Greek sandals). It is possible to lead in heels, but difficult. They create mechanical issues that aren't such a problem in following, especially with the knees, and the angles between hips and shoulders.

What I ideally want for leading is a fully flat, feminine dance shoe. And there aren't any. I'm not exactly sure why not, but none of the brands has come anywhere close to acknowledging the possibility of a woman dancing in flat shoes; although women very commonly lead some of the time, socially and in classes*.

These, however, are nearly perfect. They're extremely comfortable, with flexible soles and a not-too-tight elastic band holding them onto the foot. They look nice and are very reasonably priced, too, from Clarks. You can get this style for under £30 in the sale, if you're lucky, and there are several colours and variations.

Lovely soft flexible shoe, well held on the foot

The only problem is the soles. They are rubber, which is far too grippy for dancing. Try to dance tango in these, lead or follow, and you'll do some damage to your knees or ankles very quickly. This is the problem with most sporty shoes.

Rubber soles are too grippy for dancing

Here is the solution. A roll of stick-on fabric bandage, and a small pair of scissors. What kind of bandage you use, is not that crucial - a flesh colour would be better than white, but I couldn't find any. You don't want any padding, though, just a plain fabric bandage.

Stretch very gently, stick, and cut roughly

Cover the soles at the front with the bandage. If it is elastic, stretch it very slightly, as it will stick better that way. But not too much, or it will come off at the edges. You will probably need two bands, and I find it works better if I make the edges meet, rather than overlapping them. Cut it roughly first, then carefully fold it back and trim around the edges of the sole. There's no need to do the heel, unless you want to, as you'll lift it off the floor when you turn anyway.

Trimming in progress

Rub the bandage well into the sole. You end up with a sole that's a bit less grippy than a new suede one, but will wear to about the same grip as a somewhat worn leather one. Just replace the bandage if it comes unstuck or you're no longer happy with the grip. This stuff comes in 5-metre rolls.

The new surface

While I'm about it, I'll point out that it's totally possible to follow in these. When I do, I take care to get my heels down. Men who follow well never mince about on tiptoes. Like leading in heels, I think it's harder, it's tricky to maintain the right sort of forward energy, but that's all.

Of course, you can also do this with heeled shoes. If you have a pair of flexible, comfortable, well-balanced heels that would be perfect if they weren't too grippy, you can adapt them for dancing in the same way.

Conversely, if you want to wear your beautiful dancing shoes to a party, the same trick works in reverse and protects their soles against the floor. Within reason.

Thanks to Blaz and Samar for teaching me this tip!

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*  As an aside, although it's much less usual for men to follow socially, men's dance shoes are available with disguised heels well into the range of what is comfortable for following. But I don't know whether anyone chooses that kind and wears them for that purpose.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a man who follows sometimes I find I don't need special shoes - just more of a following posture which as a side effect means I am more on my toes. I say side effect - its not because I am trying to be on my toes/ball ... but that in order to stay light and react to leads I can't be plodding with all my weight committed to full stomps.
Great blog btw.

msHedgehog said...

Yep, it's absolutely possible, and I fairly often follow in flats. The problems really are that my feet are longer, I am shorter, and it's more work to maintain the right sort of forward energy - depending a bit on the height and shape of my partner. I avoid tiptoeing as it really messes up the connection.

Gamecat said...

Ingenious idea. However doesn't the material tend to absorb liquid or tear? Would some other adhesive tape like duct tape be more durable and less grippy?

maya said...

Great advice and tutorial. Thanks to a painful neuroma I cannot wear my dancing heels for at least two months. I have been looking for non-expensive flat dancing shoes without success and your post is just the kind of thing I can use until I recover .

msHedgehog said...

@Gamecat: Surprisingly, duct tape is far *too* grippy. It's a plastic surface and I suppose moisture sits on it and acts like glue. This stuff does absorb moisture, but not really more so than suede or leather - and I think the absorbency actually helps. It doesn't make it sticky. It doesn't tear at all - you really need the scissors. It can come unstuck at the edges. But less so after a couple of attempts.

Iain said...

Maybe it depends on the duct tape - I learnt this trick from young dancers in BsAs and it works fine. But the priciple is the same - so whatever works.

francoise_hardy said...

At Northern Soul events it is common to put talc on the floor to make it nice and slippy for everyone. I did once see a guy spraying silicon on his shoes.

Frances R said...

You mean in England they don't sell ladies flats with the soles other than sticky rubber?? Here in the USA there are plenty. For example, I use Gap ballet flats, they are cheap, and exist in many colors.

msHedgehog said...

I don't like ballet flats, you can get them everywhere but I think they are too delicate and I strongly dislike the look.

msHedgehog said...

Duct tape also sticks strongly and is very difficult to remove. The idea of this is that it's a temporary and reversible adaptation. But yes, use whatever works, as long as it doesn't stick too strongly it won't damage the shoes, so you can experiment.

Anonymous said...

You've flagged up something that's been worrying me for ages, as I like to lead and follow. My problem is that I have large feet, and anything which is in the slightest bit "ethnic" looking just makes me look like a transvestite! I currently use my flat black jazz shoes and have put elastic instead of laces in for a quick change when a tanda I want to lead comes on, but OH HOW I WISH somebody would make some dainty, pretty leading shoes for us leading ladies with large feet!

msHedgehog said...

Yes, it is annoying. (And on balance, if there isn't time to change, I'd rather follow in cute flats than lead in heels.) As soon as anyone tries, they seem to end up making a mannish shoe, which can be glamorous if that's your look but is not what I want, or a just plain ugly shoe. While the high street is full of good-looking flats!

Anonymous said...

What brand of that fabric bandage do (did) you use? I tried Elastoplast but it came off after a few tandas I am afraid. And I hoped to use those shoes (and this trick) at Spitalfields...
thanks in advance.

msHedgehog said...

I dont remember the brand unfortunately, I think it was probably a Boots or Superdrug own-brand - you can see how it looks. They do vary and some are much stickier than others. Mine look messy quite quickly and I renew it a lot. Since writing this post I've got some of those soft-plastic flats called Mel, and I find those are remarkably good for dancing in because the soles don't absorb any moisture, so have the right amount of grip on any halfway okay floor.

Anonymous said...

Interesting solution! How do they fare on a good floor? at the likes of Spitalfields?

msHedgehog said...

At Spitalfields the Mel shoes are ideal. That's what I wore last time I went there. The taped ones would be too absorbent - they're better for indoors, things like those plasticky floors they have at Pineapple.

Anonymous said...

I tried the taped ones at Spitalfields and the tape didn't survive the stones. Thanks for advice about Mel!