WHAT SHOES SHOULD I WEAR TO GO SWING DANCING?

Shoes at Camp HollywoodWhenever 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.

For women:

  • 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.

For men:

  • 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 shoes for women Swing dancers are Keds with chrome leather soles.

When I tell my beginner Swing dancing friends 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 (I did not say “follows” because not all of the women are following!) 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:

Chrome leather soles

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.

What About Women’s Dance Shoes with Heels?

Many instructors and veteran dancers (especially Balboa dancers) prefer more stylish shoes with a bit of heel.  A short or medium heel is fine, as long as the heel is wide and not too spikey.  It is possible to find suitable shoes at regular department stores like Macy’s but you’re odds are much better at a dedicated dance shoe store like dancestore.com.

In L.A., the follows I talked to swore by Remix Classic Vintage Footwear as having the best-looking and most comfortable shoes for Swing dancing.  Their “Balboa” model is a good example. One commenter said 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.  The only downside is that they are MUCH more expensive than Keds (around $200 a pair).

Charlie Stone is 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.  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).

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:

IMG_9919_cropped

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 (Third Street Promenade, Swing dancing by the pier, or 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 then 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.

Styles to Avoid

Finally, here are a few dance shoe styles that I would avoid (just my personal opinions here – please don’t be offended):

  • Super sparkly/gaudy shoes: Some Swing dancers can pull this off, but these type of shoes are more suitable for ballroom than Swing.
  • 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


  • Kiki Zhang

    Could i have your authorization to tranlate and post it in local sharing platform with all the regional resource (for sure)?

    • Hi Kiki,

      Yes, I grant you authorization if you provide a link back to the original article (this page) along with attribution.

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • Meg

    Re-Mix are by far the best I’ve danced in! http://megchaney.com/megs-lindy-shoe-review/

  • You may want to add to your list about what not to wear like rings or jewerly that can cut you. I have been cut before, more than once. It’s not the cut that bothers me, but it is kind of hard to dance when you are bleeding all over the place. Also clothing such as sweaters or jackets that flop around, anything that grts in the way. Also wristwatchs. One more thing that is a BIGGIE . Women with long sharp finger nails. This is the only thing why I won’t ask a women to dance. I have been cut to many times, which in turnes stops me from dancing. Women
    FILE YOUR NAILS…………………………PLEASE. ( I would like to dance with you ).

  • Mark Balzer

    Brian,

    This web site sells terrific soles for all kinds of floors:

    http://www.Soles2Dance.com

    Soles2Dance is run by a mechanical engineering professor and dancer who has done all the leg work of finding the best thin chrome-tanned suede and the best 3M adhesive transfer film. Using his product is almost as easy as applying a stamp to an envelope. And he even sells “lo-friction” and super-lo-friction” sole materials for dancing on difficult surfaces (pavement, etc.).

    I find walking shoes quite comfortable and supportive, and better looking than dance sneakers. I prepare walking shoes for dancing as follows. Since I want the shoes to be flexible I put a very coarse 16 grit (a finer grit won’t work) sanding disk on a disk sander and grind the sole (forward of the heel) as thin as I can w/o breaking through. I only lightly grind the heel — just enough to prepare it to accept the suede outsole — because I want the shoes to naturally create a forward poise for dancing.

    I purchase the suede sheets from Soles2Dance. I trace the shoes on the sheets, cut oversize, peel the backing and apply the suede to the heel and sole. On each shoe the suede should be applied in two pieces: one to the heel and one to the rest of the sole (using one continuous piece of suede as shown in the photo stiffens the shoe, making it harder to “roll through the foot”). Then I trim the suede with scissors and a razor blade knife.

    I hope this helps,

    Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      This looks awesome! Thanks for sharing it!

      Brian

  • For seriously addicted swing dancers you can buy a piece of “chrome” suede leather (off cut of a large roll) from a wholesale leather merchant online. In Australia they sell it by the kilogram…I bought enough to do more than 20 pairs. You then buy contact adhesive from the hardware store and bingo all your favourite shoes become dance shoes. Just remember not to get them wet otherwise they don’t slip.

    • Great tip, thanks Sue!!

      Brian