There’s something special about trying on new dance shoes and taking them for their first spin around the dance floor. It’s not all about appearances, though. The right shoes can improve your dancing more than you would ever imagine.
Do you find you tread on your partners’ toes? Do you struggle with control in your spins? Does your body movement feel unnatural? This may not be down to your technique. Have a look at your shoes. If they’re heavy, poor-fitting or inflexible, they’ll make dancing more difficult for you.
Latin dance shoes are lightweight compared to normal street shoes. This makes a big difference to how you dance and how nimble you are on your feet. You can feel the floor and control your movements so much easier. And that’s not to mention the sole and grip, fit, heel position and much more.
These factors impact your dancing more than you might realise. So, how do you choose your new shoes? Where should you buy them? And how can you tell if they really fit? Let’s take a look, starting with one of the most important points: your budget.
How Much Do Latin Dance Shoes Cost?
Prices for Latin dance shoes vary greatly depending on the style, the use, and of course where you buy them. Decent dance shoes aren’t cheap—although you can get by with a budget pair for a while. Meanwhile, the price for good-quality ones will vary a lot.
Plain, flat shoes, such as Greek sandals and jazz shoes, all tend to be cheaper. In the UK, prices generally start from around £25–£50.
More stylish flats (e.g. traditional men’s shoes) and Latin dance heels, the type that are designed for dancing salsa, bachata and more, will generally be more expensive. Mid-range pairs might come in at £50–£80, while top brands sell for over £100 a pair. You should always expect to pay a premium if buying at big dance events as the seller will have to pay high stall fees as well as transportation to the event and hotel costs.
You can buy heeled salsa and bachata shoes for far less online, of course, typically from sellers based in Asia. If you’re on a budget, these cheap shoes will still be much better than regular street shoes. Bear in mind, though, that shoe quality isn’t just about the materials and the number of diamantes show. It’s about the positioning of the heel under your foot, the support for your ankle, the give and breathability in the material, the quality of the sole, plus many other factors.
I wore a very cheap pair of salsa shoes for my first few years of dancing. After eventually treating myself to a quality pair, I then discovered I had far better balance and control. Later, when I switched back to my cheap shoes to dance in a bar with a sticky floor, I felt unbalanced and unstable not only during turns but also in my basic moves.
Where to Buy Salsa & Bachata Dance Shoes
The best way to buy new shoes is to try them on first. We don’t always have access to a local shop selling Latin dance shoes, but most congresses and events will have shoe stalls there. This is a great way to try several styles and sizes and see what feels more comfortable for you. A good seller will also be able to give you advice.
If you buy shoes at an event, you need to consider when you try them. After a long day of workshops or a few hours of party dancing, your feet will be hot and swollen. New shoes will nearly always stretch a little, though. If they feel perfect or a little loose on sore feet, you will struggle to keep them on at the beginning of the night.
Don’t rush into a decision. Since your feet change sizes throughout the day (even when you’re not dancing at a festival), consider trying them on at different times. Try the size above or below as well; although your usual size may feel perfect, you often won’t know for sure until you’ve tried another size on. Always try both the left and the right shoe—we all have one foot slightly bigger than the other, so a shoe that’s tight on your smaller foot might be unbearable on your bigger one.
If you can’t get to a dance shoe shop or event or want a bigger selection, you can buy online. This is always tricky, however. You can’t tell if the colour will be true to the image or how soft the material is. The quality can vary, too. I bought many pairs online in my early dancing years, and I would say one in four pairs were a success.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop online. It just means be aware and be careful. Read as many reviews as possible. Look closely at the images. Check the return policy before you purchase, as well as the shop location. Depending on where they are based, returning them might not be economical. And on more expensive shoes, you might have to pay Customs fees.
And before you shop around, ask your friends in the dance community about their experiences. Get recommendations for companies they have purchased from. Ask if they are true to size, if the fabric is soft, and if they’re well made. Most dancers love talking about shoes and will happily answer all your questions.
How to Choose a Pair of Latin Dance Shoes: A Checklist
There are so many choices when it comes to dance shoes. And while our eyes might be drawn first of all to the most stylish pair, there are some extra things to consider—such as the dance floor, sole material, and heel height. This is especially important if you are on a budget and cannot afford to buy multiple pairs for different situations.
Here are some of the most important points to consider:
The type of sole affects how you’ll step and spin. It also determines the suitability for different types of floors and venues. And, of course, if you’re vegan, you’ll want to avoid certain materials.
Most dance shoes have a suede sole which makes turns and spins much easier. This is because there is less friction between the shoe and the floor. It’s great if you’re dancing on a smooth dance floor, such as in a dance academy or ballroom. And because it’s good for spins, it’s great for cross-body salsa.
Other dance shoes have a smooth leather sole. This is quite common in tango, for example. These soles are less flexible than suede but typically last longer. You can also wear them on a dance floor or outside, although I personally prefer to keep my dance shoes for the dance floor only. It means the shoes last longer, since it avoids damaging the sole.
Dance sneakers/trainers and vegan shoes often have a rubber sole, which may have spin spots. This means you can wear them inside, outside and in places with terrible floors. For example, they’ll stand up better to the sticky floors of a pub or regular nightclub. However, they tend to grip the floor more, while you may find your feet get too hot in dance trainers. On the other hand, some dancers may find dance trainers more to their style.
Heel Height & Shoe Style
Traditionally, Latin shoes for people of all genders had heels. Of course, today, there are plenty of heel-free Latin dance shoe styles to choose from and anyone can wear whatever shoe style they like—regardless of gender.
However, the heel height and style will affect your comfort and posture while you dance. You will work different muscle groups, so you may even find it useful to swap shoes during parties to give your legs a break.
If you are new to dancing in heels, it’s generally better to start off with a lower heel height. Depending on the dance style, you may also need to raise your heels off the ground for a short while, so you will also want to take that into account. 1.5–2 inches/3.8–5 cm is generally a very comfortable, low heel height. As you become more used to wearing heels, you can then increase the height.
Here are some of the main shoe and heel styles, from flat to high:
Dance trainers and sneakers are flat and extra comfy, with lots of cushioning and support for the heel.
Jazz shoes have extremely thin soles and an almost flat heel. This is great for connecting to the floor and feeling it as you dance. They are lightweight and super flexible—but the lack of cushioning means your feet might ache after several hours of dancing.
Traditional masculine Latin ballroom shoes have a block heel of one inch/2.5 cm or more. They offer a lot of support, typically have a padded insole and are great for gliding around the floor. However, they tend to be more formal and stiffer, so you may find them less comfortable.
Cuban heels (1.5–2 inches, 3.8–5.1 cm) are a common feature in the Latin and ballroom dance scenes. They are usually used for performances rather than social dancing, but you may find them more comfortable. It’s always worth trying some options on to see how you feel before spending your hard-earned money.
Stilettos and flared heels are the most popular options for a more feminine look on the dance floor. They elongate your legs, give you a subtle reminder to keep your weight on the balls of your feet and can affect your hip movement. A flared heel is easier to balance on than a stiletto and will help with your confidence as you begin your dance journey.
Unlike with street shoes, you’ll rarely see block heels and wedges in salsa and bachata. They are too difficult to turn in. Stiletto boots, however, are a popular choice.
Can you adjust buckles or laces to accommodate hot, swollen feet or to give more support when your feet are cool? Ankle Straps on high-heeled are usually generous in length, and extra holes can be made if necessary. If you are buying in a shop or at an event, the seller may even be able to add extra holes for you after you’ve purchased the shoes.
Can You Dance in Them?
This may sound obvious, but it’s easy to impulse buy a beautiful pair of shoes at a festival, only to regret it later. This isn’t just about the heel height and strap length, either.
Open, strappy sandals are great for cool feet, but there are more places for the shoes to rub and cause blisters. Plus, there’s the obvious and sometimes scary issue of stray toes slipping out between the straps.
I prefer open toes, but some people worry about their toes being stood on—a hazard that all dancers, leaders and followers alike, face. However, the choice in closed-toe shoes is very limited. They are usually aimed at ballroom or swing dancers rather than other salsa and bachata dancers.
If you are dancing all weekend at a congress, then comfy shoes are a must for surviving the weekend. Make sure you can dance in your shoes not just for an hour-long class but for a six-hour party too.
Do They Fit Well?
This section may be last on the list, but it’s certainly not the least. If your dance shoes don’t fit you correctly, you won’t dance as well and you may even hurt yourself.
The Correct Dance Shoe Fit Is Critical—Here’s Why
Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments & tendons. Is it any wonder they ache so much after a few hours of dancing?
This also means we really need to take care of them. As dancers, we put a lot of pressure on our feet, and if we want them to carry us around the dance floor until the early hours of the morning, then we need to look after them. Badly fitting shoes are a recipe for disaster. They will not only spoil our night of dancing but could potentially lead to long-term problems or injuries..
You probably think you know how to tell if shoes fit you well, but buying poorly fitting dance shoes is a common mistake. Dance shoes are not supposed to fit like regular street shoes. We’re not walking or even running in them: we’re dancing, spinning, pivoting, tapping and much more.
If you love dancing then it is important to love and respect your feet too—after all, without them we cannot enjoy dancing!
How to Know if Latin Dance Shoes Fit Correctly
Always stand up to check the fit of a shoe, and if possible, have a walk or do a few basics in them. Your feet spread when you stand up (unsurprisingly, as they are holding all our weight) so although a shoe might feel perfect when you’re sitting, it will feel totally different when you stand up.
Dance shoes need to be supportive. Whether flats or heels, your foot needs to feel secure inside the shoe. Does your heel slip at the back? Do your feet slide to the front of the shoe and cramp your toes? Are your toes pinching? Does your arch feel cramped and squashed?
If you find any of these issues when trying new shoes, then they are not right for you. Shoes will give and it is okay if they feel a little tight when new—but if they feel uncomfortable, then don’t risk it. While new shoes generally need to be worn a few times to get optimum comfort, they should never feel painful.
Bear in mind that natural materials will stretch more than man-made ones. Suede and nubuck leather will generally stretch the most as they are the softest material. Satin and leather will both stretch, although not as much as suede. Plastic/synthetic leather and patent leather have the least give. It’s also worth noting that the more your foot pushes against the material the more it will stretch. Strappy shoes will stretch more than a closed-in shoe.
If you wear the same shoes all the time, they will stretch more than if you wear them less frequently and allow them to dry naturally in between uses.
Always check straps are not too loose when you buy new shoes. Consider making extra holes in the straps if they don’t feel snug. This is especially important around the ankle, where support is essential. A loose-fitting strap can cause you to turn your ankle and sprain it.
You should be able to move your toes freely but not have a gap at the end of the shoe—especially if the toes are open. Your feet could slide forward, cramping the toes and causing the heel to slip. This could lead to injuries and increase the risk of tripping or even losing your shoe mid-dance. Make sure the buckles don’t digging into you; this can really hurt after a couple of hours. A typical problem is the shoe rubbing at the Achilles or on the ankle bone. Anyone who has experienced this will testify that it is not worth it, no matter how stylish the shoes are.
Sometimes we see a “perfect” shoe, but it really isn’t perfect for our feet. Don’t force it. There will be another equally beautiful shoe that fits you well—you just haven’t found it yet.
Tips & Tricks for Wearing Your New Bachata & Salsa Shoes
When you find the perfect pair, make sure you get used to them slowly. I have been lucky and worn a new pair of shoes for six hours of solid dancing with no issues. However, I’ve also had blisters or cramps appear within an hour, too. Try them out at a workshop or dance at home for a bit to check they are comfy. Add some plasters to your dance bag, too.
Always make sure you have a change of shoes wherever you go. I change my shoes throughout the day in congresses and always swap into lower heels or flats towards the end of the night. You’ll be comfier, but perhaps the best reason for changing your shoes though is this one: your feet produce approximately half a pint of sweat a day. Imagine that poured into your dance shoes! We should never wear the same shoes every day (and this applies to all shoes, not just our salsa and bachata dance shoes).
In fact, next time you get home or back to your hotel room after dancing, try taking your shoes out of their bag and leaving them to air a bit. It will make all the difference next time you pull them out in a workshop—and it will be far less embarrassing! And allowing your shoes to dry out in between dances not only makes them smell and feel nicer, but it also means they will last longer.
Next time you are shopping for dance shoes, take a little extra time to find the right ones. Ask your dancing friends for advice and look for online reviews. Run through our checklist: do they fit well? Is the heel height good? Will the sole be suitable for local dance floors?
We all love dancing, but it is so much more fun when our feet aren’t screaming at us.
Hayley discovered salsa in 2009 and fell in love with the dance and the lifestyle. She has since embraced kizomba and bachata, and she now runs a small dance school—Salsa Bonita—and dance events in Cornwall, UK, including the Dança Bonita SBK Beach Festival. She also has a dance shoe shop, Shimmy Shoes, with one of her close friends.