Normally, I share design and sewing tips for Ballroom, Country and Ice Skating dresses.
Today, I want to discuss a new topic: shoes and boots. You know, those things on the opposite end of our bodies from rhinestoned dresses.
If you’re a ballroom or ice skating competitor, you’re aware these are expensive sports.
Country and Line Dance events used to be reasonably priced, but as hotel fees, coaching, travel fees and dress expenses rise, so increase the overall costs of that genre.
To help save money, some women do without costumes for their first several competitions (which I think is a wise decision for most newcomers). A lot of women who really want the blinged-out dresses save money by getting an economy one or buying used and altering an old costume.
But what about those things that cover your feet? Are these items beginners can do without buying for a while? What about getting low-cost versions?
Will you still be able to perform well if you buy economy shoes and boots?
I have experience purchasing ballroom shoes and figure skating boots, so I’ll share my thoughts as well as links to other blogs that have information you can use to help make wise buying decisions.
Since I don’t know step one about choosing Country or Line dance boots, I am SEW excited that this portion of the blog was written by our very own Sew Like A Pro™ member, Patsy Pirie.
While she began as a social dancer, she has competed Pro-Am on the Country circuit for four years, including qualifying to compete at the World’s event three times. She certainly has enough experience to share her thoughts on what types of Country dance boots to buy!
Read more below.
Figure Skating Boots
After I retired from professional competition in the ballroom world, I decided to try figure skating which I had always loved watching on TV.
I signed up for group classes at my local rink and loved every moment. Of course, I wore the rental skates which were Dreadful! — with a capital D and an exclamation mark.
The blades were dull. The ankles were broken down. I had to arrive at the rink at least fifteen minutes early to make sure the attendant could give me one of the better pairs.
After a few months of icky boots and group classes, I added private lessons with an ice dance coach. She hooked me up with a pair of used boots and blades for $250.
Oh, they were so much better than the rental skates!
The boots were in good shape and I kept the blades sharp. The toe box was too narrow for my growing dancer’s bunions, but I handled the discomfort for an hour or two at a time.
Months (or maybe years) passed, I moved and changed rinks plus ice dance coaches. Luckily, I was able to barter salsa lessons for my skate lessons. This gave me some extra money to put into better fitting boots.
It’s time for new boots!
Since I have very wide feet, I decided I would have my boots custom made by a local woman who had a retail shop at my rink. For several months I saved my pennies until I had $800 – which only covered the cost of the boots. The blades from my used skates were good enough for my skate level so they could be reattached to my new boots, saving me a lot of money.
Except the soles of my brand-new, custom-made boots were horribly uncomfortable. After a few minutes on the ice, my shins and feet cramped so badly I could barely make it through a 45-minute lesson. Week after week this happened.
Unfortunately, the woman who took the mold for my custom skates didn’t want to make replacement soles. She said it’s difficult to get a good arch and suggested I wear cushioning in the bottom…. Really? What was the point of me getting custom boots if I had to adjust them to make them wearable? My coaches also had no suggestions on what to do.
Unfortunately, the cushioned soles didn’t help. I couldn’t skate wearing my new boots. I couldn’t afford new ones. So I stopped skating.
That $800 pair of brand new skates sits on the top shelf of my closet. The bite of that custom purchase gone wrong still stings.
That disaster is one of the many reasons on my sewing school programs I offer a 30-day money back guarantee (which no member has ever inquired about) and I bend over backwards (or at least as much as my 49 year-old spine will allow me) to offer the best customer service possible.
What do I think of my figure skating boot buying experience?
I believe I chose to buy skates at the right time: when I felt certain I was going to keep skating. That’s also what I suggest to my new ballroom dance students.
Thanks to my coach who knew they were good quality, the used skates I purchased were a fabulous find.
P.S. Keep your eyes open for more advanced skaters who are upgrading their boots and blades. You can purchase theirs at reduced prices.
Would I recommend the expense of custom boots to someone else? Absolutely not. At least not for someone of my beginning-intermediate skate level.
If I were to do it again, I would have researched longer. I would have gotten detailed input from my coach and other skaters at the rink (not just general advise, which I got.) But I was overwhelmed with choices and excited to get new boots. I chose the local boot-maker thinking her standards were as high as mine.
Can I salvage my poor fitting figure skating boots?
Years later I was told by a hockey player and a senior ice dance couple to soak the soles of my boots with Lexol and wear them around the house for several hours to help mold the boot to my foot.
If you have any experience with bad boots and/or Lexol, I’d sure love to read your comments below.
Now, I told that story first so all the Ballroom and Country dancers would feel good about the cost of their footwear which averages between $80 - $250 US dollars. 🙂
As Skater's Landing wisely says in their blog post about choosing figure skates,
"A properly-fitted boot is the most important part of your time on the ice. A secure fit can prevent painful blisters and improve performance. In addition, your boot and blade combination should be level-specific and should perfectly fit your abilities and needs."
ThoughtCo has a comprehensive, easy-to-understand article about how to choose ice skates for figure skating.
Because I'm a total nerd and like to know how and why things are made, I also like this detailed article on blades by Scarlet Skater.
Country and Line Dance Boots
Patsy, our Sew Like A Pro™ member and dance boot guest blogger, started out sewing costumes for her dance teacher. She went to competitions to see her perform, check out the other dresses, and to take classes. As Patsy says, "I kinda came into competition by the back door."
Patsy qualified for Worlds at the Newcomer level three times and has recently boosted into Novice category (so she can finally wear rhinestones on her dress ....Yay!) Eric Zimmer in Portland, Oregon is her coach and pro-am competitor. Last year Patsy placed 6th overall in the Golden Age division, 3rd place in two-step, 4th in West Cost Swing and "just missed the podium by a hair" in the all-around.
Patsy's first dance boots
"When I first started taking private lessons about eight years ago, my female instructor told me I couldn't wear my street shoes for lessons and that I needed dance boots.
Competitions were not on my radar so I figured I didn't need super high quality. I bought a decent pair of used black boots on Ebay figuring that was good enough for starters.
My first teacher retired so I had to change coaches. That's when I began competing.
I really liked my old black boots, but needed tan ones for competition.
I purchased lycra boots. At the time, the lycra boots had great flexibility, but didn't last nearly as long as leather."
Country Dance Regulations
Patsy says, "The UCWDC (United Country Western Dance Council) requires female dancers wear boots for all competition routines: waltz, two-step, polka, cha cha, etcetera.
Currently the trend is nude or flesh tone so the legs look longer and the boots do not distract from the dress. Flesh color boots also blend with the floor so it's easier for the the judges to miss timing errors which is, of course, to the dancer’s advantage :).
If you have a strong toe point you may want a cloth boot to show it off. While the leather boots offer more support for beginning dancer’s, they don’t show off strong, experienced feet as well.
Country dance boots only have a 1" - 1 3/4" heel (25mm - 45mm). They come in leather, lycra and ultra suede cloth. Most younger dancers like the ultra suede boots because they are really comfortable, like dancing in slippers."
Unlike regular boots worn on the streets, dance boots have suede soles so they don't ruin the dance floor.
For the arch, you can choose boots with or without the metal shank. The metal shank offers more foot support. Boots without the shank offer little arch support, but enable the dancer's pointed toes to be visible.
Ballroom (Dancesport) Shoes
If you read the skate boot portion of this blog post, you already know dance shoes are significantly less expensive than skates. You'll be even happier to hear that the cost of women's Latin shoes has not gone up much since my professional competition days in the 1990s when I paid $110-$125 for top-end shoes.
For better or for worse, I had very strong feet. I used to break the metal shanks in my Latin shoes so I had to buy several pairs each year. That was expensive collateral for a starving dance instructor and top-6 competitor doing two to four events each month.
When is a good time for new dancers to buy shoes?
When new students do not have a specific dance goal in mind, I recommend they wear street shoes for several weeks (or several months) until they feel confident they will continue dancing for a while. After all, why spend money on an item they may only wear a few times?
What if you have a specific dance goal? Let's say you want to learn to dance for your son's wedding because the new in-laws dance. That's a strong motivation to keep taking lessons and going to practice parties!
In instances like that, I recommend getting dance shoes right away because you're not quitting any time soon.
Does having dance shoes make that big of a difference even for social dancers?
Yes, it does.
That's why most Ballroom, Country, Line and Swing dancers have practice shoes in the car all the time -- even if they do nothing but social dance.
Amy Castro, the owner of Overland Park Ballroom in Kansas, has a great analogy in her blog post about why and when new dancers need to buy shoes.
One weekend she went to watch her 8-year old nephew play soccer. He kept sliding and falling on the grass. Turns out he had forgotten his cleats and his regular runners had no traction for stops and turns.
"Dancing’s no different: Sure, you can participate in your sneakers, but are you going to dance as well as possible? Or will you end up chasing the ball and never actually catching it?
... After all, slipping and sliding around the grass is always fun, but finding the traction to kick the winning goal feels so much better."
When you're ready to buy ballroom dance shoes, there are a lot of price, quality and feature options.
Just like with country dance boots, ballroom shoes have suede soles so they don't ruin the dance floor.
Shoes are available with and without the metal shank in the arch. The metal shank offers more foot support. Shoes without the shank offer little arch support, but enable the dancer's pointed toes to be visible. I dare say all competitive professionals wear shoes with no shank so their feet look strongly curved.
Check with your dancer instructor, your fellow students and read this substantial list of Dancesport shoe vendors by Duet Dance Studio.
For social dancers: a generic style shoe that puts your weight in the middle of your foot is perfectly fine.
For competitive dancers: buy a shoe that is specifically made for your style of dance -- Latin/Rhythm or Standard/Smooth. The shoes are unique and put your body weight in different places on your foot.
For both social and competition dancers: try on many pairs of shoes in person to find what fits your foot the best. Each company makes shoes a little differently. Be sure to sample shoes from several companies, not just one. After you find your favorite style and size, you can order your shoes online.
The bottom line for all dance shoes, dance boots and figure skating boots:
if you are a competitive dancer or skater, buy the best quality, most comfortable and style-appropriate shoes or boots you can afford, even if you have to cut costs on your costume.
What's on your feet is more important than bling on the body.
Leave a message at the bottom of the page!
I would love to hear your experiences about how to choose dance shoes or figure skating boots!
Never Miss a Dress or Design Tip! Get the SLP™ newsletter.
By leaving my name and email address, I understand I will receive 3-8 emails a month, including the Sew Like A Pro™ newsletter and occasional promotions about the sewing school. I understand my information will not be given or sold to anyone else. I can opt-out of the list at any time.
Follow Sew Like A Pro™ on your favorite platform.