Dance Wear, Part One: Dos and Don’ts

Good dance clothing makes it easier to dance, and move with others. Bad clothing and accessories are uncomfortable, and might even injure other dancers around you.

Not sure which is which? Fear not! I'm loading you up with 5 of the most important rules of social dance clothing and accessories, so the evening is a success for both you and your partners. Because as we know: Happy partners are repeat partners.


Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the Joy of Dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

What we wear says a lot about us as a person, and being on the dance floor is no exception. There is however, the added dimension of not only wanting to be a snappy dresser but a conscientious one as well. Let me give you some examples by using two imaginary couples: the Joneses and the Jacksons.

The Joneses made sure to remove any long or sharp-edged jewelry before they left for their evening. Heck, Mr. Jones even wore a thinner wallet just to make sure there was no risk of anybody getting hit while they are moving around on the floor.

The Jackson's by comparison wanted to look extra posh with their bling, and now Mrs. Jackson is scraping up mr. Jackson pretty solidly with all that jewelry, especially when she makes a turn - kind of like a bladed wheel on a Roman chariot, am I right?

The Joneses wore clothing that was fitted above the waistline; this made it a lot easier for them to move around and connect with each other. But Mrs. Jackson chose to wear a shirt that was baggy, and with large holes for the armpits, and now Mr. Jackson is having trouble connecting with his partner's back without getting his hand caught on her shirt.

Mrs. Jones wanted to wear a skirt that was light and flow-y, but not TOO light, so she chose some heavier material. Mrs. Jackson on the other hand, wore a skirt that was so light every time she turned it flew up, and now everyone's getting a free show of her thighs from every spin she makes - it was a bad day to choose to wear that thong your husband likes Mrs. Jackson!

The Joneses wore proper dance shoes - they wanted this evening to go perfectly, so they made sure to get one some nice suede leather soles with heels no higher than 1.5" inches for the leader and no more than 3" high for the follower.

But the Jackson's sadly, did not think it through. Now, Mr. Jackson is crushing his wife's toes with his heavier work shoes, and she's returning the favour with her 5" high stilettos. Oh your feet are gonna be bruised tonight, Mr. Jackson!

Finally, the Joneses wore clothing that was light and breathable, and Mr. Jones brought an extra shirt just in case it ended up being a little warmer at the club than they expected.

But Mr. Jackson simply brought his heavier work shirt, and now both it and him look like they've just been through a car wash. Oh, those Jackson's!

As you can see, it only takes a few simple accessory choices to make the difference between a really lovely evening out, and a nightmarish one. So let's recap:

  1. Don't wear clothing that is long or sharp-edged, or really anything else that could fly out and injure either your partner or those around you.
  2. Make sure that your clothing is fitted above the waist line, so that it's easier for you to connect with each other and less risk that you're going to end up getting caught on each other's clothing.
  3. If you choose to wear a skirt, make sure it's of heavier clothing, so that you're not giving everyone a free show of your thighs every time you make a turn - unless you're into that. I don't know, I don't judge.
  4. Wear proper dance shoes! I cannot stress this enough - suede leather soles heels that are no longer than 1.5" for men and 3" high for women. It makes a big difference: You're much less likely to injure your partner, and it's just so much easier to dance in them once you get used to them. It's well worth the investment.

Assume that it's going to be a warm night out, even if it's wintertime (dancing can get hot fast), so wear light breathable clothing, and seriously consider bringing an extra shirt.

Keep those tips in mind, and you can ask me questions about this by messaging me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at Again that's 

Next week, we're going to be interviewing a fellow ballroom dance instructor, Steven James. Steve has experienced competitive ballroom dancing, dancing at social dance halls, at West Coast Swing clubs, at Latin nightclubs, and he has some very useful tips on what you might want to wear, depending on the venue you're at.

So we'll look forward to talking to you about that next week, and until then, happy dancing!

Your First Ballroom Dancing Shoes

Your First Ballroom Dancing Shoes

Google ‘dancing shoes’, and you’ll quickly find there’s plenty of options to choose from. 1” to 3” heels. Open toes and closed. Snug or loose fit. It’s enough to make many would-be dancers throw up their arms and try and make do with running shoes and stilettos.

Your First Ballroom Dancing Shoes
But don't say I didn't warn you...

Fortunately, buying your first dance duds is a lot easier if you focus on a few simple criteria. But first, why do we need dance shoes anyway?

The Shoes Make the Dance

Consider the number of turns, spins and pivots you make as a dancer. Dance shoes have a suede leather sole, which gives you just enough grip on the floor to make turning smooth, not sticky or slippery. They make the dance smoother and protect your knees from twisting and causing injury. After all, would you try to scale a mountain without a harness and pitons?

Your First Ballroom Dancing Shoes
Well, MOST people wouldn't.

Your First Ballroom Dancing ShoesConsider buying a shoe brush, and brush the soles of your shoes after every dance session. Doing so will keep the leather from going hard, which makes turns more difficult.

The Right Kind of Heel for the Right Kind of Dance

One of the most important things to look out for when purchasing ballroom dance shoes is the height and type of heel. Below is a picture of some basic heel types for various shoes you might purchase in the future. It might seem confusing, but just follow these simple rules when comparing:

  1. Men’s heels are 1-2” high (measured from the point where the heel meets the shoe down to the heel tip), and ladies heels are 2-3” high. I highly recommend buying shoes at the lower end of that scale to start.
  2. Ballroom shoes have lower heels and are closed-toes for ladies. Latin shoes have higher heels and the toes are open for ladies.
  3. If your feet are wider/narrower than average, there are several dance shoe companies that make shoes in various widths. International Dance Shoes, Supadance, and Tango OK are three great examples.

Your First Ballroom Dancing Shoes

Get What You Pay For

Ballroom dancing shoes generally range from $60-190, depending on the quality of material. If you want to know what exactly you’re buying, here’s some questions worth asking:

  1. Does the heel have a steel-reinforcing shank? The shank provides much better support for the heel, which reduces foot fatigue from longer dances (you can test for a shank by gently bending the toe towards the heel; if the toe bends but not the middle of the shoe, there is a shank.)
  2. Are the soles sewn in or glued on? Sewn in shoes usually last longer - the glue tends to wear out in discount shoes, causing the sole to start detaching.
  3. Is there high-density cushioning from materials like Poron? While more expensive, Poron gives your foot addition padding and prevents a ‘bruised’ feeling after prolonged dancing.

BEFORE YOU BUY: Make sure you try a few dance moves with them! Is there any pinching or rubbing sensations? Is there enough support? What will it feel like dancing in these after an hour? 2 hours? Five?

Your First Ballroom Dancing ShoesLeather tends to expand a bit over time, so buy shoes a little on the snug side, although they shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

Your First Ballroom Dancing Shoes

So, what do I recommend? Well, if you’re in Toronto, and just getting started, C&W Dance Shoes was how I got my start. If you’re looking for something a bit more high-end without breaking the bank, try Dance Style shoes. I’ve worn the latter for years now, and only need to replace them about once every couple years - and that’s after dancing every day!