Nat and I took a trip up to the Twin Cities to go dance shoe shopping this weekend. He’s been making do with practice shoes for three or four years now, so it’s high time he invested in a decent pair of dance Oxfords. Sometimes, practice shoes just don’t cut it with a nice outfit. Although you can get away with a surprising number of dance shoe fashion sins:
- Red, teal, or otherwise eye-catching shoes with a boring outfit. (I suspect that white shirt/khaki skirt/4 inch red patent leather tango shoe lady has some suppressed sexuality issues going on.)
- Sparkly, be-rhinestoned shoes with yoga pants. (I was guilty of this in my college days.)
- Shoes that clash with your outfit (hello, man with purple crocodile swing shoes and camouflage cargoes).
- Men wearing denim shorts with dance shoes and calf length socks
To prepare for our shopping trip, we did a little bit of online shoe shopping. I’ve worn Supadance shoes for years, so I
encouraged him to try that brand. My parents both give Werner Kern high marks, so I encouraged him to try those as well. They’re both excellent, high-quality brands. We even called a Werner Kern distributor, at one point, to ask for advice on which models would best fit a man with a wide foot but a narrow ankle.
Having done our homework, we set out to shop in earnest, but here we ran into trouble. I was hoping that our trip to the Twin Cities would be a little more successful, shoe-wise, than previous shopping attempts. After all, Minneapolis/St. Paul is the largest population center in the region, and it boasts a few well-known pros and coaches. Surely, I thought, we’ll be more likely to find a store carrying a better selection of quality dance shoes. Not so.
The selection in the Twin Cities, unfortunately, is representative of the kind of poor selection one tends to find throughout the Midwest. If there are good ballroom stores in the Twin Cities area, they are either extremely shy or they do a very poor job of optimizing their Web presence. A Google search for “ballroom shoes Twin Cities” turned up a few studios, and the Twin Cities Rebel Swing Dance Club, selling swing shoes. A search for “ballroom shoes Minnesota” turned up Celebrity store in the suburbs (I’m not a fan of this brand). It looked like we were just about out of luck when I noticed an ad in the local USA Dance newsletter for a small store in St. Paul. That looked like our best option, so we made a beeline for it last Saturday. And…we were disappointed. We found a pair of shoes in the end, but it really ended up being the best of a mediocre lot. I had hoped for better.
Here in the heart of in-the-middle-of-nowhere USA, ballroom shoe stores are rare and selection is dismal. I’ve encountered very few that are devoted solely to ballroom shoes. In most cases, the only option you find is a dance store, primarily catering to the ballet/jazz/tap/hip-hop set…that also carries a few types of ballroom shoes. They often
carry models made by the brands of ballet shoes they carry (Capezio, Bloch, and Sansha); in some cases you’ll also find some of the low-end ballroom brands, like Very Fine and So Danca. Sometimes, dance studios will also sell ballroom shoes as a sideline. Unfortunately, their selection is usually no better…most likely because they can’t afford to keep too much stock on hand, and certainly can’t afford to keep spendier shoes lying around.
No matter where you go to shop—ballet store or studio— most places don’t do a very good job catering to their male customers. For every 10 or 15 models of women’s shoes, you may find 3 or 4 models of men’s shoes (one of which is usually a dance sneaker). Now sure, there is less obvious visual variation in men’s ballroom shoes than women’s (most men’s shoes are black), but different models and different brands fit differently. If I were a man, I would want stores to carry enough options that I could be reasonably sure that I would find a shoe that fit me. At the very least, they should carry a few different cuts and a few different widths in a couple of different brands. I feel sorry for men who have to shop for ballroom shoes. If you’re not in a big city, you have it rough.
If you’re a dancer in the Midwest, you don’t have many good options when it comes to shopping for dance shoes. This is true whether you’re a man or a woman, but especially if you’re a man. If you don’t want to limit yourself to the ho-hum, el-cheapo options available at your local ballet store, here’s what you have to do:
- Travel to a big city, like New York or LA, where they have one of just about everything. Chances are, you’ll find a store that stocks the shoes you want to try
- Attend a mega-comp, like Ohio Star. All the best dance shoe dealers will be there, with all the latest styles and lots of stock on hand.
- Do lots of online research, read reviews, and narrow your search down to a couple of shoes from a couple of different makers. Order a couple of sizes in each, try them on, find one you like, and return the rest. The only drawback with this technique is it can take a while, you need to have a large chunk of cash on hand or be willing to charge it, and you will be out the cost of shipping. Still, it probably come out cheaper than some of the travel options.
- Best and cheapest option of all: Find someone else with feet close in size who has shoes you like. Try their shoes on. Use that information to order online. You may still have to do a bit of option 3, but hopefully less.
Does anybody have a tip for shopping for shoes in the Twin Cities area? I’m drawing a big fat blank.