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Author: Richard Symister

Selecting Your Right Dance Gear: Shoes

We asked a cobbler, former professional dancer and current “Chicago-style” Stepper, Hatshepsut Pakeman Symister, what she recommends when choosing the right shoes to get you through many nights of dancing without overloading or injuring your feet and knees.

  • Schedule monthly shoe physicals.
  • Rip out your old insole and replace it with a memory foam insole.
  • Get your shoes stretched professionally before dancing in them.
  • For closed shoes, put a little bit of Gold Bond inside of them to absorb perspiration while you’re dancing.
  • Trade out those stiletto heels for block heels. It’s much better for your knees, legs and hips if you have more space on which to dance. And you have better balance with a thicker heel. For women who wear heels, try Vivian Lou insoles, sold online. These little slivers of plastic really do help balance your foot in high heels, and help you to dance longer pain-free.
  • If your feet don’t “glide” on the floor, your knees will try to pick up the slack when turning and spinning, which may injure your knee (excessive rotation). Test the amount of friction between your shoe and floor, particularly on the floor on which you are about to dance. Ever wonder why your knees hurt after a lot of spins on a “bad” floor?
  • Choose comfort and stability over aesthetics. Don’t get things clouded and go by what just looks good on you. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel good now, don’t kid yourself! It’s not worth it. You should not have to adapt dramatically to the shoe and vice versa.
  • Your feet get bigger with age. Stop buying the same size shoes every year and wonder why your feet feel cramped. Get your feet measured yearly.
  • Shoes are like a box of chocolates. Not all shoes are created equal. So, don’t expect them to be. I bought a pair of shoes that I love. I ordered a second pair of the exact same model and size but they fit completely differently than the originals.
  • You have to appreciate what your partner is wearing and what he / she can or cannot do because of the heels, height, base.  
  • Arch supports, heel cushions, bunion donuts.  Find a physical therapist that knows knees and feet, who can recommend the right orthotics. Correct orthotics may make your dance more comfortable and save your joints.
  • When going to the store to try on shoes, go at the end of the day, because your feet swell and get bigger by the end of the day. Also, while in them, give them a test drive. Walk, spin, dance! If the salesperson or manager gets upset, dance out and find another vendor!
  • Some stores like Jack Rabbit offer free gait analysis. These are good and can add to creating the right shoe prescription.
  • Practice in your new shoes. Ween into them in small doses. Don’t wear them on premier night, hoping to “break them in”.
  • Strengthen your feet. Target the little muscle (instriniscs) with dance-specific, “cross-training” programs. Not sure? Seek out a physical therapist that knows dance.

Move. Heal. DANCE. Evolve