Cheap Dance Shoe FAQ

The primary changes I have made to this document are formatting and spelling.  I have also deleted one item that is obsolete, and added a link to a replacement source for the same type of shoe.  Original contributors to the Cheap Dance Shoe FAQ include:

Mark Balzer Ann Detsch Stan Graves Robinne Gray Kara Kruse Bart McJunkin Ken Navarre Karen White Lester-J Wood

Table of Contents:

  1. Why cheap dance shoes?
  2. Jazz shoes
  3. Character shoes
  4. Athletic shoes
  5. Bowling shoes
  6. Attaching chrome leather (suede) soles
  7. Where to buy dance shoes

Why cheap dance shoes?

Ballroom dance shoes are special shoes built with flexible uppers and lowers, a metal tang in the arch for support and chrome leather (suede) soles. They come in different styles suited for smooth or Latin dancing, and typically cost in excess of $90. The soles are quickly ruined if worn outdoors. While men can dance in well-fitting dress shoes with a smooth leather sole, you're still shelling out $75 or more, and many of them are overly stiff and heavy. The stiffness makes it hard to flex your foot, and will eventually cause the leather to crack and split at the points where all the flexing becomes concentrated. This will, of course, ruin your dress shoes. So what are your options? Here are a few for us penny-pinchers:

Jazz shoes

Jazz shoes are relatively inexpensive ($25 and up) and can be purchased with rubber soles, chrome leather (suede) soles, chrome leather soles with rubber heel, and in "split soles" for the ultimate in flexibility. However, jazz shoes are not ideal for a long night of dancing. They're flimsy (no tang for arch support), flat (heel heights are about 1/4"), have little to no cushioning and the thin uppers offer almost no lateral support. To give them more support, you can buy jazz shoes that are slightly bigger than your foot and then insert "athletic" insoles which have a molded heel cup and arch support. You can even add a cushioned insole under the athletic insole. This adds a lot to the comfort of the shoes without detracting from the flexibility. You would not believe the difference they can make in comfort over an evening of continuous dancing or spending the whole day on your feet for that matter. When using this approach with any shoe, it's best to buy the insoles first and take them with you while getting fitted.

PS - did you ever realize that wrestling shoes are really split sole Jazz boots in disguise? :-)

Character shoes

Character shoes are dance shoes with sole-leather soles. They are named for their use in theatre by actors/actresses performing "in character". They are also used by tap-dancers who attach metal taps to them. Women's versions don't look quite as classy as ballroom shoes, but they're far sturdier. I like the stronger heel, the weight and durability of the sole, the toe room. They take a lot of scuffing and abuse, but I just polish them and keep dancing. My ballroom shoes feel so dainty and fragile, and when they get scuffed or nicked it's painful because they cost so damn much. Although conventional wisdom holds that one should never wear one's dance shoes on the street, I find that leather soles perform BETTER if they've been "seasoned" by a bit of regular street wear. That's the only way they really become like an extension of my feet. Then I make sure to wipe the soles well to remove pebbles & dust before setting foot on a nice wooden dance floor. The more you wear a pair of character shoes, the softer they become until they finally feel as comfortable as a pair of slippers! Capezio makes a number of styles of character shoes for men (K-370 is a very comfortable man's shoe) and women, with the women's shoes available in different heel heights and with or w/o straps.

Men's character shoes

I recently ordered a pair of men's character (or tap) dance shoes which I am _REALLY_ pleased with and I thought I'd share the info. They are:

made in USA black, lace-up oxford style thin, soft leather uppers thin, sole-leather soles very flexible, very comfortable available in half sizes available in medium and wide widths built with a metal tang for arch support and best of all, ONLY $36.50 !!!!! (that is not a misprint - $36.50!)

These shoes are a generic but otherwise identical copy of Capezio #441 shoes which normally sell for $60. They are perfect for night club dancing in those clubs where you wouldn't want to wear "suede" soled dance shoes. In addition, they are fine for street use too, so you can wear them to and from the club, without having to lug around a shoe bag. Best of all they are only $36.50. (And even if you don't dance, these are probably the most comfortable dress shoes you'll find!) Order them from Kinney Dancewear in Indianapolis. Their phone number is 1-800-93-DANCE. The stock number of the shoe described above is K-401. You may bond chrome leather (suede) soles to them, as described in a following section.

Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2007 09:46:37 From: Thank you so much for including Kinney Dancewear on your website. The K-401's were at one time $36.50, but they are now $49.75. Again, thank you so much for the mention. - Kinney Dancewear
2015-11-19 updated email address above. Kinney Dancewear now has a website, but I don't see any products listed.

Women's character shoes

My favorite character shoe is one that I order out of a catalog. It's called a "flexible character shoe" and has a low heel (tapered, not a clunky-looking "Cuban-style" heel), ankle strap, and a suede sole. They're quite soft, pliable, and comfortable (fit like the proverbial glove). Here's the info:

Flexible Character Shoe: All leather, 1 1/2" heel Soft flexible suede sole Ankle strap Medium width only Sizes: Women's 4-10 Colors: 506B Black 506T Tan Price: $37.00 (U.S.)

Manufacturer: Danstar Dance Shoes [This manufacture is apparently long gone. See our dance shoes page for a Jazz shoe listing.] The company recommends ordering these shoes one size below your street shoe size (the representative on the phone can help to size you correctly). When I slip a pair of Dr. Schole's cushioned insoles inside, I can literally dance all night in these shoes.

Athletic shoes

Most of the English & European women wear athletic shoes for dancing Lindy-Hop. The layers of foam in modern athletic shoes really cushion your feet so that you can dance all night without discomfort. But unfortunately, you can't spin without killing your knees. Athletic shoes grip the floor too well and if you try and dance in them you run the risk of ruining your knees in spins and turns (knees are hinge joints and are not built to withstand the high levels of torsion along the axis of your leg which rotating and spinning in sneakers can produce). To prevent knee injuries from occurring, you can take your athletic shoes to a cobbler and have chrome-leather (suede) soles (like on real dance shoes) bonded on, and that typically costs an extra $30. For you do-it-yourselfers, one of the best solutions that I've found over the years is to get a comfortable pair of athletic shoes that offer excellent support and then glue on chrome leather (suede) soles yourself, as described in a following section. "I believe that you can do very well by gluing chrome leather (suede) soles on to athletic shoes (tennis, basketball or "court" sneakers are the most flexible styles), or to a flexible pair of walking shoes (like SAS brand). If you often dance for 4, 5, 6 or more hours at swing events, you will be thankful for the cushioning that these kind of shoes provide. However - they are not great for extreme inside edge work (tango progressive side step) because of the sole design. Walking shoes are built on much straighter lasts than most shoes (why are all dance shoes made with curved lasts?) and as a result they are much more comfortable and don't crowd your toes."

Bowling shoes

The guys in Ithaca have found a clever solution to the cheap dance shoe problem: bowling shoes. Not the ugly ones you can rent from bowling alleys, but nice modern ones you can order from bowling pro shops or catalogs. They look like athletic shoes, but have suede soles! Expensive bowling shoe soles have hard rubber soles with a partial chrome leather (suede) attachment on the left shoe for right hand bowlers (and vice-versa) to enable sliding during the release. However, bowling alley pro shops sell shoes that are 'neutral' and have the chrome leather (suede) sole on both shoes, so they can be used by lefties or righties. These shoes have a non-skid heel. The pro shop quoted several brand names, and the price seemed to be around $35 a pair for all of them. I got a pair of bowling shoes from a local bowling alley, and I love them. Because they are so comfortable and provide good protection if your foot gets stepped upon, I use them for dance practices and workshops. There is chrome leather (suede) on both shoes covering the entire ball of the foot. They do have a non-skid heel so they are not good for waltzing (makes heel leads difficult), but they are great for two step, ECS, WCS, etc. (Of course, you can bond on chrome leather (suede) over the rubber heels yourself, as described in a following section.) My pair cost about $35; they are very lightweight, and are as "stylish" as any other pair of athletic shoes. My former partner has fallen arches so he inserted arch supports in his bowling shoes and found them to be extremely comfortable as well as good support for his feet. "One final note: in trying on various brands, I found that some of the more expensive shoes were stiffer and heavier while some of the less expensive ones, although not quite as durable, were much lighter and more flexible. I opted for a less expensive, more flexible brand and have been quite happy with my choice." "I recently tried on two different pairs of Brunswick bowling shoes, (both pairs under $36.00) and I found them to be a rather stiff compared to a tennis, basketball or "court" sneaker, and I was disappointed with the slippery synthetic felt - VERY fast - that they used for the sole under the ball of the foot." "I have the Dexter bowling shoes with glued-on chrome leather (rather than stitched-on), and I love them. Before buying them, I tried on some Brunswicks at K-Mart and found them to be way too stiff. My Dexters are very flexible and comfortable. I ended up gluing some chrome leather to the heels mainly to make the heel leads in waltz a little easier (the rubber heels skidded on the floor too much). My pair of Dexters cost between $30 and $35 -- definitely a smart purchase. I use them a lot for practices, lessons, and workshops." Here are some reviews: "I danced in my new bowling shoes last night. They work great! The suede is faster than my ballroom shoes, so turns were easier, but the moment you put your heel down, you're anchored." "This past weekend I was at a Swing event and the floor was very slow. I had a really difficult time spinning in my good, expensive dance shoes, but my $30 Dexter bowling shoes (with suede heels glued on) were just right on this floor. And I was able to dance all night because they were so comfortable."

Attaching chrome leather (suede) soles

As recommended in "The Ballroom Dance Pack" by world champion Latin dancer Walter Laird, you can bond chrome-tanned leather (suede) soles over the harder, vegetable-tanned shoe-sole leather used on what we normally refer to as "leather-soled shoes". In addition, I have bonded a pair of "suede" soles on to a pair of tennis shoes, and am very pleased with the results. Freed brand (made in England) chrome leather (suede) dance shoe soles are available for only $6 a pair from Kinney Dancewear in Indianapolis. Their phone number is 1-800-93-DANCE. They come in white or dyed black. You order them in a man's size 11 or 11 1/2. After you bond them on and the adhesive is dry, trim them to size with a razor blade. I spoke at length with a shoe repairman, and he sold me a tube of the rubberized contact cement that he uses. I tried it, and it works fabulously!! It's *MUCH* easier to use than Shoe Goo, and dries almost instantly as opposed to the 24 hours that Shoe Goo requires. The adhesive is "Barge All Purpose Cement", made by the Quabaug Corp, North Brookfield, MA 01535. The rubberized adhesive "Shoe Goo" was good for gluing on dance shoe soles. They have now come out with "Shoe Goo II" which is thicker and doesn't seem to work as well for this purpose as the original Shoe Goo. Shoe Goo II, distributed by Second Wind Co., Paso Robles, Ca., 93447-2300, can be purchased at Kmart, Wal-Mart, or even hobby and sporting goods stores for approximately $3 a tube. Each 3.7 oz. tube is enough for a couple pairs of shoes. But try to get the Barge All Purpose Cement mentioned above - you'll be much happier. When boding chrome leather (suede) soles onto athletic shoes with very aggressive sole patterns, it helps to grind the tread down before gluing the suede on. I used a 7" disk sander (though a belt sander would work fine) with a 24 grit sanding disk to grind down the tread on the pair of shoes I bonded the suede to. Make sure you use very coarse grit sanding disk (or belt) or you will just end up making a lot of heat and melting the rubber. In use, chrome leather (suede) soles glaze over with the dirt and wax they pick up from the floor, so you must occasionally clean them with a wire brush, as you do for regular dance shoes.

I have chrome leather soles put on my comfortable shoes at a shoe repair shop. The charge is $10.00, so for the $4.00 it takes to put on soles that have been suggested for $6.00 plus shipping I prefer having a professional do it. I live in IA. so perhaps I have found a real bargain. Thanks for the idea of using "gym" shoes I may try that for practice shoes (not signed).
May 25, 2006: I'd like to give you an update on some information that's in the page. The Kinney character shoes mentioned, model number K-401, has increased in price to $48.75, plus $8.00 for shipping. Glue-on suede soles are available for $8.00. I just order the shoes. Regards, John Visser
May 25, 2007:  I was reading your website and came across the information about the generic men's character shoes from Kinney Dancewear in Indianapolis. I called and ordered a pair, but the price has gone up to $49.50 plus $8.00 shipping. I thought you might want to update the site to reflect this. Thank you for the tip. I look forward to a pair of character shoes that may last a few seasons rather than the $83.00 Capezio oxfords I blow through each year.  Best,  Gary 
January 4, 2008 - Shoes - if you are adapting Athletic shoes to Ballroom use by adding a suede sole - Skate board shoes are the business! - Skateboard shoes generally have flat (no or little tread) sole, are very wide fitting for balance, have good support and have no heel. I really like them for dancing in. I have two pairs. A non-suede pair for 'very fast' floors and suede pair for normal use. - Andrew Stone
January 5, 2008 - more on skateboard shoes - They also generally have leather or suede uppers - so they look good too!  - Another reason I used them is because I have very broad feet with a high instep. I have difficulty finding ordinary shoes to fit, let alone dance shoes. I came across a pair in sale, (didn't know what they were - they just looked wide fitting) tried them - and they were the solution. - If you have broad feet and high instep - they are the solution to your problems. - Andrew

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