What Shoes Should You Wear Swing Dancing? (East & West Coast)

Legs of two swing dancers wearing street and dance shoes

Perhaps you want to try swing dancing and don’t know what shoes to wear. Or maybe you’ve been swing dancing for a little while and want to know more about how different shoes affect your swing. 

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll be diving into the ins and outs of how your shoes help or hurt your swing dancing. We’ll explore when street shoes or dance shoes are most appropriate, how to pick the best shoe for you and your style, the different choices for east versus west coast swing, and more!

Ultimately, we want to help you answer the question every dancer asks at some point: do I really need dance shoes for swing? 

How Shoes Affect Your Dancing

When it comes to dancing, shoe fit is going to be one of the biggest factors in how well you’re able to dance. 

Here are the two big ways that the shoes you wear affect your dancing:

  1. Ability to execute spins and footwork
  2. Comfort while dancing

The first way dance shoes affect your dancing is by increasing or decreasing how easily you can spin and perform footwork. When your shoes have a slippery bottom like suede or chromium leather, you’re able to spin and glide much more easily. Hard-bottomed shoes make it more difficult to execute intricate moves.

Barefoot dancer sits on floor

The second way dance shoes affect your dancing is by their comfort level. When you’re in comfortable shoes, you’re not only able to perform moves more easily, but you’re also more focused on your dancing instead of how much your shoes are pinching. 

However, shoes that might be the most comfortable to walk in, like hiking boots or thick tennis shoes, may not be the most comfortable to dance in. Dancing requires more flexibility and quickness from the foot than everyday living. So, finding shoes that are well molded to the foot and lightweight is beneficial for dancing.

Both street shoes and shoes designed for swing dancing can be lightweight and comfortable, so when should you opt for one or the other? Let’s discuss.

Couple prepares to dance swing in a forest

Credit: Hanny Naibaho

When to Pick Street Shoes

Street shoes are common in the swing dancing scene, especially when we’re talking about east coast swing. Some of the reasons they’re so popular in outdoor and indoor scenes are because they’re comfortable, inexpensive, and highly customizable with many color and design options. They’re also great when dancing at outdoor venues. 

The two things that set street shoes apart from dance shoes are their fit and the type of sole. They often lack the suede or leather soles of a traditional dance shoe, which means it’s harder to dance smoothly (and you can put more strain on your knees). 

One way many dancers get around this is by simply having their shoes resoled. Buying street shoes and having them resoled is often less expensive than buying dance shoes outright. So, it can be a great option if you’re looking for that streetwear style and comfort while gaining a better gliding surface.

So, good times to dance in street shoes are:

  1. If you’ll be dancing outside
  2. If you’re starting out swing dancing and don’t want to invest in traditional dance shoes yet
  3. If they’re comfortable, and you’ve had the shoes resoled to fit your dance needs

Good Street Shoes for Swing Dancing (East Coast and West Coast)

Which street shoe you should pick depends on which style of swing you’ll be dancing and if you want to get new shoes or go straight from your existing closet to the dance floor.

So if you’re a casual dancer or beginner, let’s take a look at how to make the most of what you already have and pick the best street shoe for you to go dancing in. Here are some tips for picking a good street shoe for the dance floor from your closet:

  1. It’s lightweight
  2. It doesn’t have a heavy tread
  3. It’s thin and fits well
  4. It has no heel or a low, wide heel
  5. It’ll stay on your foot easily even when you’re spinning or dancing fast

Shoes should never be something that keeps you from going dancing. Swing is open to everyone, and you can have a great time on the dance floor in shoes you already own.

But let’s say you’re looking to invest a little more into your swing shoes while still having shoes you could wear out and about. Here’s which street shoes are most popular depending on the style of swing:

If you dance east coast swing, and more specifically lindy hop, one of the most popular street shoes in the US is Keds. They’re lightweight, flat, and comfortable with a snug fit. Plus, they’re easy to resole if you want to get that extra boost, and with the wide variety of styles, there’s something for every dancer’s taste.

If you’re a west coast swing dancer, the go-to street shoe for many in the US is Toms. These shoes are flat and flexible and work well with the gliding, rolling motion of west coast swing. You’ll see everybody from casual dancers to pros wearing them, and they can be resoled just like Keds. 

Woman wears street shoes for swing dancing

When You Should Buy Swing Dance Shoes

The only time we don’t suggest buying dance shoes if it’s your very first time swing dancing. If that’s the case, break out a comfy pair of street shoes from the closet, and check out the dance floor first to see if you like swing. 

Once you’ve decided you enjoy swing dancing and want to do more, then investing in dance shoes or good dance-appropriate street shoes is a great idea. Some good times to buy dance shoes are:

  1. When you’ll be mainly dancing at indoor venues
  2. If you’ll be taking private lessons that focus heavily on technique
  3. If you’ll be competing

There’s a little more that goes into buying a pair of dance shoes that fits well than there is when you’re a pair of street shoes. It can be worth purchasing your first pair at a dance convention where there are vendors or from a dance shop that specializes in swing shoes. Try to avoid buying your first pair online.

Couple dance swing outside in swing shoes

Good Dance Shoes for Swing (East Coast and West Coast)

When you buy your first quality pair of dance shoes, you can expect to pay around $100–$150. Good-quality swing dance shoes typically fall within that range, and you rarely need anything more expensive. 

You can often find somewhat lower-quality swing dance shoes for around $20–$50. In our experience, these shoes usually don’t fit as well and are made of materials that last for around six months. You might find it’s worth spending the extra upfront for a good-quality pair that’ll last years if fitted properly. 

For follows, you have the option of either a flat dance shoe or one with a slight, wide heel. If you like to switch between east coast and west coast swing, buying a sandal-style dance shoe with a low heel and good straps would be a great option. 

If you’re looking for a more stylized lindy shoe, however, then the more tennis shoe or vintage-style swing shoes are for you. Jitterbug-style heels are also a good option if you like balboa or other traditional east coast dances aside from lindy. 

If you’re primarily a west coast swing follower, then a west coast swing sandal is a great shoe to start with. And if you have more experience and technical training, you might like west coast swing boots.

The big difference between east coast and west coast swing shoes is how much foot motion and flexibility they allow. There is a rolling technique for the foot in west coast swing which requires shoes with greater flexibility. But throughout east coast swing dances, there are typically quicker non-rolling movements for which a slightly firmer sole is better suited. 

For leads, if you’re looking to dance both east and west coast swing, a traditional ballroom shoe is a great option. There is more leeway in what leads need from a dance shoe, and a ballroom shoe has the flexible sole and slight heel that’s great for west coast and east coast swing leads alike. 

If you want a shoe that’s more stylized for west coast swing, you could invest in a pair of hybrid dance sneakers. And if you’re a lead looking for that classic lindy look, maybe think about a two-toned Aris Allen.

Couple dance swing in ballroom and dance shoes

Do You Need Dance Shoes for Swing?

If you want to have a great time swing dancing, whether it’s east coast or west coast, you don’t really need dance shoes. You just need a great attitude and great music. 

But if you want better technique and more elegance on the floor, plus to protect your knees, a pair of dance shoes is a great tool. They’re often more comfortable than street shoes and give you that extra control and confidence.

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Miriam is a passionate social and competitive dancer turned freelance writer. She uses her background in health and wellness, her B.S. in kinesiology, and her experience in the dance world to create high-quality content for a variety of needs. Miriam’s greatest dreams involve professional dancing, traveling the world, and writing full-time. You can learn more about her and her services on her website: miriambarnes.com. Or you can connect with her on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter,  and Instagram.