Whenever I invite my non-Swing friends to go Swing dancing, one of the most common questions they ask is, “what kind of shoes should I wear?” I’ve interviewed my Swing dancing friends and drawn from personal experience and observations to provide some answers here.
Using Your Existing Shoes
If you’re going Swing dancing for the first time or just starting out, maybe you don’t want to buy new shoes just for Swing dancing just yet. Here are some guidelines on choosing the best shoes to dance in from your existing shoe collection.
- Avoid high heels or spikey heels. Pick a shoe with flat sole or medium heel that is thick (large diameter).
- Leather soles are best. Avoid rubber – it’s too hard to spin on.
- Avoid sandals or slippers.
- Similarly, pick shoes with leather soles. Avoid rubber soles (i.e., avoid sneakers, unless they have been modified to have leather soles).
- Men’s leather dress shoes with work fine as long as they don’t have rubber soles. I like to put Dr. Scholl’s padding inside these type of shoes, since they typically don’t have much padding.
If you don’t have any shoes with leather soles, a really ghetto way to make your existing rubber-soled shoes danceable is to put duct tape on the bottoms to make them more slippery. I mention this only as a last resort. Use at your own risk! (I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned this.. Please don’t blame me if the tape sticks to the floor and you fall!)
Women’s Swing Dancing Shoes
Okay, let’s say you’re a bit more committed and want to get “real” shoes for Swing dancing. In Los Angeles/Orange County, I would say the de-facto standard casual shoes for women Swing dancers are Keds with chrome leather soles.
When I tell beginner Swing dancers to get Keds for Swing dancing, they are like, “Really?? Women wear Keds with dresses?” Yes! It looks cute. Take a look at this screenshot of the Strictly Lindy contest at Camp Hollywood 2014:
Notice how many women are wearing Keds or Keds-like shoes, circled in white!
The problem with Keds, though, is that they come with rubber soles. So, if you get Keds to dance in, you’ll have to take them to a shoe repair shop and get chrome leather (similar to suede) glued to the bottom of your shoes.
What is Chrome Leather?
The “chrome” refers to Chromium used in the tanning process of the leather. For our purposes, by chrome leather, I mean a soft suede-like leather that is smooth enough to slide and spin on, but not as slippery as hard leather. Check out the virgin chrome leather soles on my new sneakers:
Ask your cobbler to show you the material before glueing it on your shoes so that you can make sure he is using the right stuff.
A lot of Swing dancers have their favorite shoe repair places that can glue chrome leather to the bottom of their shoes. Prices vary. I’ve heard of non shoe-professionals offering the service for as little as $10, but people have told me that you get what you pay for. The soles eventually fall off. I’ve never had the soles come off when I’ve gone to a professional shoe store. In Santa Monica, the shoe stores I’ve looked at charge $30 to $40. I’ve heard of other shoe stores charging as little as $20 though.
An alternative to using a cobbler is to use stick-on soles. I cannot vouch for these myself, but you can try them at www.soles2dance.com.
You should know that some dance shoe suppliers have started to offer Keds-like shoes with dance soles already built-in! The overall cost and hassle of getting these is much less than getting Keds and getting them chromed. Check out dancestore.com for some good examples of these. Many dancers have recommended this online store as a good source for dance shoes.
Note, reader Seana alerted me to these Keds-like shoes with felt sole from Payless!
What About More Formal Women’s Dance Shoes?
Keds are fine for casual venues like LindyGroove, PBDA, Rusty’s, Atomic, Lindy Loft, and so forth. But if you’re going to Pour Vous or the Cicada Club, you’ll want to wear something more formal. Also, many instructors and veteran dancers (especially Balboa dancers) prefer more formal shoes with a bit of heel. A short or medium heel is fine for dancing, as long as the heel is wide and not too spikey.
In L.A., follows tell me that Remix Classic Vintage Footwear has the best-looking and most comfortable shoes for Swing dancing. Their “Balboa” model is a good example, and it is their best-selling model. One commenter told me they “fit like a glove”.
Remix took real vintage designs and had them reverse-engineered in order to manufacture them accurately today, so they are very stylish. Basically, they look and feel great for Swing dancing. Note that these are MUCH more expensive than Keds (around $200 a pair), but the quality is good.
If you’re interested in something a bit different, check out the low boots and other shoes made specifically for Swing dancing from Swivells, based in Paris! Yes, they’re in France, but at least 5% of their orders go to customers in Los Angeles, so you’ll be in good company.
Charlie Stone is an another online shoe retailer (based in Australia) specializing in women’s Swing dance shoes.
If you’re on a budget, you can also find good vintage shoes on ebay and at thrift shops, if you know what to look for.
Swing Dancing Shoes for Men
The situation is a bit easier for men’s shoes. Basically, almost anything with a leather sole will work, at least initially. On top of that, pick something that is comfortable and fits your style. Stacy Adams offers some dress shoes that fit the Swing style.
For dedicated dance shoes, Dancestore.com and Remix are great sources for men’s dance shoes. USA Dance Shoes offers men’s shoes for ballroom and salsa, but they can be used for Swing (unlike women’s Salsa shoes).
For high-end shoes, check out Ace Marks. Yes, these run $300 a pair or more, but they are hand-crafted in Italy from high-quality genuine leather. But most importantly, they look great! Take a look at their wingtips and Oxford cap toe shoes. Although they might seem expensive, they are actually a great value and will last a long time.
The leaders who dance “Hollywood Style” in L.A. tend to wear lighter-colored shoes, like beige or white. Otherwise, black or brown shoes are fine for Swing dancing.
Here are some of the shoes I dance in. From left to right, we have sneakers with chrome leather soles added, Aris Allens, custom dance shoes from the UK I ordered at a dance camp, and regular dress shoes with air-pillow insoles:
For the most comfort, you can get a pair of sneakers (i.e., Vans or Converse type of shoes), and just get them chromed by a cobbler or try stick-on ones at www.soles2dance.com. Those will be much more comfortable than dress shoes. As is the case with women’s shoes, the dance shoe makers are offering men’s dance sneakers with leather soles built in, for much less total cost and less hassle than buying sneakers and getting them chromed yourself. Check out Dancestore.com.
Shoes for Dancing Outdoors
Okay, all of the shoes that I’ve covered so far are for dancing indoors on nice wood dance floors. But, there are plenty of occasions where you’ll want to dance outside or at some Lindy Bomb on rough surfaces like concrete.
Well, you won’t want to wear your nice chrome-leather-soled shoes outside. You’ll grind them down and wear them out quickly. And, definitely don’t get them wet. That’s why many dancers wear street shoes outside and change them when they get to the dance floor.
So, what do you wear for outdoor dancing? The answer is shoes with hard leather soles or very hard rubber/plastic soles. Dress shoes work well for this (although they often have very little padding, so put in air-pillow insoles or whatever).I also had a pair of sneakers re-done with super hard rubber soles that work well for dancing on cement. Ask your local shoe repair shop what is available. For outdoor dancing, you want a hard sole.
If you don’t mind the sneaker look, Fuego Shoes specializes in dance shoes for any surface; even concrete! Use the discount code JUSTICELEAGUE10 for 10% off! On top of that, if you order two pairs, you get 20% off your second pair.
In our experience, Fuegos are not really optimized for partner dances like Lindy Hop. On sidewalk concrete, they don’t turn that well. On smooth concrete, like in a garage, they’re much better. Still, they are better than dancing in regular sneakers outdoors.
Styles to Avoid
Finally, here are a few dance shoe styles that I would avoid (just my personal opinions here):
- Super sparkly/gaudy shoes: Some Swing dancers can pull this off (especially in contests), but these type of shoes are more suitable for ballroom than Swing, in general.
- Salsa shoes: Many of these have high heels which won’t work for Swing.
If you are a beginner Swing dancer, I hope this quick guide has helped! There are many more possibilities, but I’ve tried to keep things simple. You should also ask your fellow Swing dancers and instructors for advice on shoes. There are folks who know far more than I do about dance shoes. Ladies, check out this Facebook Group started by Lindy Loft totally devoted to Swing dancing shoes for women!
Also, be sure to check out shoe and clothing vendors when you go to Swing camps like Camp Hollywood.
If you have any more tips on where to get dance shoes, good shoe repair places, or anything related, please leave a comment below! What are YOUR favorite Swing dance shoes? Where did you get them? – Brian