In the broadest sense, ballroom shoes are any shoes used to perform or compete in ballroom dancing sets. While technically these dance moves could be done in virtually any shoe, those that are sold and marketed as specifically ballroom shoes generally have a few core things in common. Most are constructed to be slip-resistant, for instance, with linings on both the innersoles and outer soles. Both women’s and men’s versions typically have a bit of a heel both to accentuate the dancer’s posture and, as is often the case in women’s shoes, to elongate the leg. Competitive dancers often find themselves bound to certain specifications as set by the program organizers when it comes to things like heel base, skid resistance, and sometimes even styling. Different varieties of dancing also sometimes have different standards; Latin ballroom styles often stand out as having somewhat different features. Dancers usually have a lot of options, but anyone looking to dance competitively or professionally is usually wise to research any governing rules and regulations before making a purchase.
Ballroom Dancing Generally
Ballroom dancing is usually best understood as a set of choreographed moves performed by a partner pair, usually in a large space over a wooden or other hard-surfaced floor. The style originated out of the ballrooms of palaces and statehouses in Europe and the early American colonies, and was often a source of refined amusement and art; in modern times it is more often expressive, and often competitive.
A number of popular dances became more standardized and taught to a wider audience in the 1920s. The development of ballroom dance shoes advanced at this time, although not very many style or color options were available. For early professional performers, shoes consisted mainly of men's two-tone black and tan shoes and women's laced and soft-colored shoes. In the 1930s, thanks to movie legends such as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the popularity of ballroom dance grew, and shoes became a must-have for galas and events. Today, most serious dancers wear shoes that have been specially designed to meet the demands of fast moves, quick turns, and seamless pivots. Most of the time these look, on first glance, to be ordinary formalwear. Their construction is what typically sets them apart.
Ballroom dancing usually takes place on polished wooden floors, and manufactures typically design their shoes with this in mind. Most are constructed to be slip-resistant, with suede leather-lined innersoles, as well as certain shock-absorbing enhancers designed to protect the dancer's feet and allow for some degree of flexing. Additionally, the shoes often are lined with suede outer soles to guard against skidding and help to preserve dance floors.
Although there are about as many types of ballroom shoes as there are dance floors on which to use them, there are two leading types for the most popular styles of dancing: Latin and basic ballroom. In both styles, the suede soles and fabric uppers generally are customized to match the performers' costumes, and in competition settings they’re designed to meet the specifications of the governing authorities and rule-makers. Different dancing organizations tend to have different rules about things like heel height, for instance, and many also require certain skid resistance attributes in order to protect the floors, not to mention the dancers.
With Latin dancing, many shoes are free- or open-toed for women dancers, and men can opt for laced or non-laced shoes available in several color options. Latin dance shoes can vary in heel size for both men and women, depending on the style and preference, but in general the heels can be as high as 2 inches (5.08 cm) for men and 3 inches (7.62 cm) for women. Male dancers who are shorter in stature than their ballroom dance counterpart might opt for higher heels, but professional competitors' shoes must meet the requirements set by the organization in which they compete.
Basic ballroom shoes vary in color and don’t tend to be as flashy as Latin-style varieties. The varying dance steps mean that basic ballroom shoes tend to fit more securely, with lace-up straps as opposed to many single-strapped Latin dance shoes. Heel heights also tend to be lower, about 1 inch (2.54 cm) for men and 2 inches (5.08 cm) for women; among other things, this lower height helps distribute the dancer's weight evenly.