Good for the Sole
A blog post about dance shoes by Marianne Knowles
A general chat about what the hell to put on your feet when you’re dancing, and whether anyone should even give a damn, anyway.
There are few topics that interest dancers as much as footwear – frankly, we’re obsessed. Some Manchester Lindy members buy fancy trainers that will never touch a Lancashire cobble. Others visit their cobbler more often than they go to the dentist, but what is it that makes us get so excited about having bits of material stuff stuck to the bottom of our pumps? What is all this madness? And if you want to hop onto the dance shoe bandwagon, where do you get started?
Virtually every Lindy dancer who has been dancing more than a few months wears shoes chosen specifically for the dance. When I started, I knew there must be a reason for this, but I didn’t know what that reason was or where to get them from. I took the time to ask around, researched and pondered and finally bought some fancy shoes of my own.
I’ve now been dancing two years, and here is everything I wish I’d known right at the start, in a handy blog guide.
The Science (tist) View
Manchester Lindy’s resident expert (and committee member) Megan Lomas, (BSc sport Science Physiology, VTCT Dip Sports Massage no less), believes that when it comes to shoes, personal preference is key. Lindy Hop attracts people of different shapes and shoe sizes, so it makes sense that whilst a particular pair of pumps may make one person feel like Ginger, it might make someone else feel like Oliver Hardy.
‘Some Lindy dancers like more slip from suede whereas for others, the suede can put them off balance. From my point of view, the more slip from the shoe the better, especially for the twisting actions and swivels that females do, slippy shoes are pretty much a necessity. If the foot doesn’t slide well, you risk twisting the joints, stretching the back muscles and damaging your knees. The wrong shoes can also strain tendons and ligaments in the feet’, says Megan.
Serious stuff – but don’t let this put you off dancing, injury can occur doing anything (including changing light bulbs and waiting for the bus) and being aware of the potential for injury is often all you need to avoid it.
Check out the following brands and stockists for some suitably suede-y (or leather-y) soled shoes:
Aris Allen pumps and shoes are designed specifically for Swing dancing, made by and available (along with plenty of other male and female dance-type paraphernalia) from www.dancestore.com in the USA (good prices, expensive shipping).
(see here for Dancestore’s detailed explanation of shoe terminology: www.dancestore.com/footwear-glossary.aspx)
Bleyer Shoes are made in Germany, and are popular amongst Swing, Jive and Rock and Roll dancers all over the world. These come in European sizes and some require an additional insole, so pay attention if ordering online! Available from the London Swing Dance Society http://www.swingdanceuk.com/store
Remix Shoes are some of the most beautiful retro shoes on the planet – for dance, you may wish to have them sueded by a local cobbler (this usually costs around £25) www.remixvintageshoes.com
Rock and Roll Products– part of (Johnson’s Shoes) craft both ready made and custom shoes, for dance and for style, right here in the UK) www.rocknrollproducts.com
Retro Revival sell vintage style clothing and shoes in London (stockists of Aris Allen and Remix and personal friends of Manchester Lindy) www.revival-retro.com
A heads up on shoe size mysteries – Swing shoe shops in the UK are rare and there are none in Manchester – this means many dancers buy their shoes online. Some online shoe ‘stores’ work in American sizes and generally speaking there is a 2.5 – 3 size difference between British and American sizes for ladies sizing and a 1 size difference for chaps. This means that if you’re a women’s 6 like me, you’d be looking at a US 8.5 or 9, If you are a UK men’s 10, you’ll likely be a US men’s 11, depending on the type of shoe and your feet. If you are thinking of buying a particular brand via mail order ask around and see if you can try on someone’s shoes, or try them on at Lindy Exchanges and camps (we’ll be posting more about these soon).
Don’t Forget the High Street
As well as buying ready-made slippery soled shoes, you can go to regular stores such as Primark, Dune and Clarks and pay a cobbler about 25 quid to slap some suede on the bottom for you. This might be handy, if you’re new to dancing and don’t want to spend much on shoes (especially the Primark option, as some of their basic pumps have smooth enough soles to use as is, although you might like to buy a size up and add a supportive insole) and is a great option for when you just fall in love with street shoes and wish they were dance shoes. It’s also good for those of us that are fussy about fit, and need to try shoes on before purchase.
I asked a few Manchester Lindy chaps and chapettes what they had to say about shoes:
Leanne Frank, Lover of Colourful Keds and Comfort
‘Sueding shoes for me became a thing around two years ago. I went to a dance weekend and noticed after a couple of swing outs that my knees started to twinge. As I was running regularly at the time, buying new shoes was a no brainer. My brand of choice, Keds (founded in 1916 and with styles that are virtually unchanged since the 30’s) aren’t particularly popular on the Manchester scene but I love them for the support they offer me when I’m dancing and the variety of colours you are provided with. My advice would be, find a pair of shoes that you like and are comfortable in, befriend your local cobbler and get some dance soles put on them. Or, go for popular dance shoes, such as Aris Allen as they come pre sueded. Comfort is the key in this game!’
Jacqui Madden, Fan of Aris Allen and Free to Spin Forever
“I wore extremely cheap (1 of my finest English pounds) and very cheerful pumps from the good folks at Primark during my first year in dancing and found them to be comfortable and more than adequate. My balance and spin-ability weren’t the greatest in the beginning, so having a shoe that wasn’t hugely slippery but also not too grippy really helped. Now that I’ve been dancing for two years I swear by Aris Allen sneakers/pumps and whilst I still think having fancy suede shoes isn’t a necessity for dancing, it really does help. Suede shoes feel great, are extremely comfy and allow for freedom of movement. I’ve also found that my balance has improved and that I can now manage a darn good spin.”
Sidney Simon, This Man Knows all about Good Gaffer and Killer Threads.
“At Manchester Lindy on a Tuesday and for practicing generally, I prefer to adapt street trainers by putting some good quality gaffer tape on the sole. This gives a decent amount of slide without it being permanent (*editors note: some posh dance floors will not permit this, because it can leave a sticky residue on the wood, so be sure to get acquainted with your venue). If I’m dancing out, I choose the shoes to suit my outfit and that often means leather soled dress shoes. These shoes can be very expensive, but you can get bargains in places like TK Maxx and if you keep them for best they’ll last years. I think the main point is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to dance.”
If the Shoe Fits
In keeping with the welcoming spirit of the Lindy Hop, the most important thing is finding something that works for you, something comfortable, something enjoyable and most of all, something safe. Happy Dancing!
Source for the science bit: http://www.nismat.org