Dance Shoes: What You Must Know Before Buying

In this article, we will discuss general characteristics that you should look for when purchasing any kind of Salsa, Latin, Swing or Ballroom dance shoe.


Quality dance shoes are lightweight, comfortable, flexible, made of real suede and/or leather, and have built-in extra cushioning in the sole. They give your foot more freedom of movement than regular shoes while keeping the heel “locked” in place. They have leather/suede soles to give you just the right amount of slip-and-grip on the dance floor while allowing your foot to pivot freely (to avoid knee damage). In general, any leather-soled or suede-soled shoes are “good” and rubber-soled sneakers, hiking boot, etc. are “not good”.


Your dance shoes should feel like a glove to your foot. You do NOT want any wiggle room as they will stretch a bit once you begin using them. This snug fit allows your foot to connect better with the floor, giving you more control of your movement, balance, spins and will significantly reduce your fear of slipping and falling. You will wonder why you didn’t make the investment sooner once you experience the difference.


The type of dance shoe you buy largely depends on the style of dancing you do. Gentlemen typically wear suede or leather shoes with a low heel for Ballroom, Swing or Salsa dancing. For Latin Ballroom the heel tends to be slightly higher measuring up to 1.5 inches.

For ladies, an open toe heel or strappy sandal is best for the Latin and Salsa dancing. This allows greater movement of the toes, which many dancers feel help with balance and creating a clean leg line. For Swing and Ballroom, a closed-toed dance shoe with a slightly lower heel is common. The vast array of styles can make choosing your first pair of dance shoes overwhelming. Here are some things to consider:


  • Traditional Ankle Strap: This is the standard around-the-ankle strap commonly used for most women’s dress shoes and sandals and provides the least amount of foot security.
  • T-Strap: The t-strap connects to the base of the shoe securing your foot more evenly to the shoe while taking some of the pressure and tightness off the ankle.
  • X-Strap (around ankle): This style of x-strap anchors you firmly into your shoe by providing twice the coverage as a traditional strap.
  • X-Strap (around arch): Great for newer dancers, this strap style anchors your foot to the arch of the shoe, providing an ideal amount of support and stability. If you are prone to “roll” your ankle in heels with a traditional ankle strap, you’ll love the security this cross-strap will provide you.
  • Double X-Strap: Combining the best of all worlds, the double x-strap provides FOUR anchors securing you as-if you were wearing a lace-up style. You’ll be amazed at how secure your foot feels!


Heel sizes can be as low as 0.5″ or as high as 4″. The most common heel sizes are between 2″-3″. Higher heels give more shape to the leg, but just that extra half an inch can cause a noticeable difference in how it feels to dance. For beginners, it is recommended to start with a 2.5″ heel height. The higher the heel, the more your weight is pushed forward onto the ball of the foot. A lower, thicker heel provides more stability and spreads the weight more evenly of the entire foot.


The thickness of heels vary. Cuban heels are the lowest and thickest heels and distribute weight over more of the foot, providing more balance and comfort. The skinny stiletto heel is very popular among Salsa dancers right now. The flare heel, skinny in the center and wider at the bottom, is another popular heel still preferred by many dancers.


Typically, your dance shoe size will be the same as your street shoe size. If your foot is narrow, you should go down 1/2 a size. If your foot is wider you should go up 1/2 a size from your regular street shoe. Remember, you want them to be snug, but not painful.


To keep shoes looking clean, shoe polish is great for leather. Satin, mesh and sparkle net can be cleaned with soap and water. Suede bottom shoes can wear out quickly if worn on the street. It is best to wear suede bottom shoes on dance floor surfaces only (such as hard wood floors). We suggest switching into dance shoes once arriving to your dance destination. Most new dance shoes come with a shoe bag for this reason.

Wire shoe brushes can be used to clean suede bottom shoes. The wire not only removes debris from the bottom, but it also lifts the nap to make the suede like new again.

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