Have you ever wondered what to wear or bring to a dance class? Have you ever shown up to a dance or exercise class and felt unprepared or out of place? For a seasoned participant these may seem like silly questions, but for those who’ve never taken a class (or haven’t been in a while), it can be as nerve-racking as what to say on a first date or what to wear for an important interview or audition. The most important thing is to be comfortable and able to move freely.
I am often asked by my students and non-dancer friends what they should wear to dance class and what they should bring. The answer depends on what type of class you’re taking, since different types of dances have their own unique style of dress that is either functional or fashionable for that particular dance style and culture.
A few decades ago leotards and tights were standard in most classes, but are no longer as commonplace nowadays outside of traditional ballet classes. The eighties were a time of excess in economics as well as fashion, when pop-culture influenced dance as much as the dance world influenced pop culture. Along with leotards, it was also very trendy to wear large sweatbands across the forehead with bulky leg warmers over the ankles and calves. This iconic look has since been replaced by dance shorts or leggings paired with a form fitting or stretchy top for most contemporary styles, and baggy clothes or personal statements for hip-hop. On the other hand, since dance is a form of expression, and we have unique ways of expressing who we are through movement and fashion, ultimately you should wear what is comfortable and makes you feel good.
Shoes are important since it can be difficult to walk or stand much less dance if your feet are hurting. It would be hard to enjoy any experience if you’re feeling miserable and in pain. I’ve seen people wind up with bad blisters, bunions and beyond from wearing the wrong shoes; and in one extreme case, I met someone who had to have bones surgically removed due to damage caused from wearing the wrong shoes. There are many types of shoes for dancing, so it is recommended to buy shoes appropriate for the type of dance you’re doing.
For example, men and women both wear jazz shoes for jazz dance and other contemporary styles, whereas some contemporary, African and other cultural performers dance barefoot. Tap shoes are just for tap dance or clogging, and for ballet, ballet slippers or point ‘toe’ shoes (which has a very hard block of glue at the toe that allows ballerinas to balance on their toes for an extended period of time) are used. For ballroom styles, most men wear a dress shoe (typically with a Cuban heel), while ladies wear a higher ballroom heel with leather or more commonly suede on the bottom sole. The suede provides enough traction so as not to slip on hardwood dance floors, while allowing just enough movement so that the feet don’t stick to the floor as they might in other shoes with thick rubber soles. This type of shoe requires special care by regularly brushing the suede soul with a nylon and metal shoe brush to maintain good grip with the floor and prevent the shoe from wearing out as quickly.
Although regular athletic shoes may be suitable for dancing some styles like hip-hop or jump-style, it is generally a good idea to use an older tennis shoe or a brand that doesn’t provide too much traction (especially on pivots and turns), as this can help minimize knee pain amongst other issues. For those who participate in back to back classes and don’t want to have to bring a different pair of shoes for each class, or for those who would simply like to be able to comfortably dance in their favorite sneakers without having to buy more shoes, there is an elastic band called a Twist Slider that is about 1/3 the cost of a new shoe and slides over the shoe to decrease friction while increasing comfort dancing in shoes that normally would be difficult to dance in.
My pick for best all around shoe (I’ve tried them all!), are the dance sneakers. They are for both men and women, can be used for almost any type of dance, and are extremely comfortable and practical. They have a lot of support and a smooth soul, which minimize impact on the joints and overall discomfort. These and other dance shoes can be ordered online or from any dance supply store. For those who still have achy feet, investing in a pair of insoles or orthotic inserts to place inside of the shoe can work wonders and make any old pair of shoes feel like fuzzy house slippers.
Wear, Tear and Proper Care
You will want to take care of your investment by following the suggested care instructions. For example, ballroom shoes with suede on the bottom will need to be brushed regularly and should not be worn off of the hard wood dance floor in order to preserve the sole. When the sole finally wears out, some dancers have them replaced rather than replacing the shoe itself. At the other extreme, ballet pointe shoes are made to last at most just a few months, and for only twenty hours of use for professional ballerinas, who must replace their shoes after every performance! Having a second or third pair of shoes to rotate is the best way to prevent your shoes from wearing out as quickly. Shoes are like tires in that they will last longer the more often they are rotated and given attention to.
One More Thing If you plan on doing enough dancing to work up a serious sweat, it is a good idea to bring a small towel. I know some dancers who even bring an extra shirt to change into after getting extremely sweaty. Beyond dance fashion and footwear, the most important thing to remember is to bring a positive attitude, smile and have fun!