Putting Your Best Foot Forward

May 29th, 2020 by Elizabeth Radabaugh

Best Foot Forward

Best Foot ForwardWe have seen the evolution of how dancers manage the stage with an array of shoe choices. Dancers are constantly worried about whether the stage is too slippery or too sticky and they’ll create any recipe to make sure their performance is the best it can be. In today’s blog, we’ll talk about the advantages of choosing the right shoes for your performance.


Sticky or Slippery

The purpose of a dance shoe is to support the genre of dance you are performing. For instance, the purpose of a tap shoe is to help the dancer make sounds. The purpose of a pointe shoe is to help the dancer dance on their toes. Somewhere in the lyrical, contemporary and jazz world, the lines have been blurred. We have started to see many variations on shoe wearing. As the tricks, turns and leg extensions have evolved, the demand for a shoe to give you the confidence you need has never been higher.

dance shoesI get it, dancers!!! If you’re doing a triple pirouette, into an Aeriel, you want to make sure you don’t slip or stick to the floor. The way a rubber sole and a suede sole turn on the floor are completely different. Furthermore, the way a Marley floor and a wooden floor feel are completely different. Be sure to trial and error your shoe choice. Dancers will almost always prefer a stickier floor to a slippery one and for that reason, we see many ways to make your shoes stickier. I have seen dancers use hairspray and even tap their shoes in Cola. (Yes, I’ve actually seen that!). The best way, and safest way, to make your shoes tackier is to simply tap them in a dot of water. A DOT! This way you don’t damage the stage or the shoe. The floor you dance on is extremely expensive and the shoes you wear aren’t cheap either. Take care of your stage and shoes and be mindful that other dancers and performers use that stage as well.


A Word from Cori Jo Swanson

ankle socks

Netherlands Dance Theatre

I think when choosing a shoe to wear for competition, you need to look to the category you’re placing the routine in. For example, a lyrical routine, traditionally, is performed in a soft sole shoe of some kind. The same idea can apply to a jazz or contemporary routine. In a jazz routine, I want to see a full shoe on your foot. Whether that be a soft sole jazz slip-on or a character heel, jazz routines should have a shoe. With contemporary, Cori Jo Swanson, an experienced judge with StarQuest, prefers bare feet, foot paw or ankle sock. Mainstream professional dance companies, like Netherlands Dance Theatre, have begun to wear ankle socks with their performances and it certainly adds a smooth gliding feeling to their movement.

As a rule, Cori and I both agree that whichever shoe you choose, make sure you’re wearing two. Wearing only one shoe not only tells the judges you are going to turn on one foot but, it also has a casual, unfinished look to it. On reflection, I get the reasoning behind why dancers have taken on this trend. They want to be able to grip with the tackiness of a barefoot in their preparation and turn with the least resistance on the other foot. Let’s talk about that, though. If you’re not able to grip the floor wearing a proper shoe, you’re not utilizing your plié properly and dropping your center of gravity. As for your turning foot, if you’re looking for a smoother rotation, you must push your relevé to its highest position. A lower relevé is going to create more drag which is why you see dancers trying to combat that with wearing one shoe. Resist the urge to wear one shoe and work harder on implementing the technique and mechanics of the turn.

Dance Shoes

Look For Support

When choosing a shoe for your performance, consider how the shoe is going to support you and how it looks. Make sure your shoe sets you up for the best performance possible. Be sure to test your shoe choice out on multiple surfaces, including Marley (as this is what StarQuest always uses). Use your best judgement on choosing the type of shoe. Is it something you would see a professional company or Broadway show wear? Consider the look of the shoe and make sure it completes your polished performance. Don’t get tripped up by choosing the wrong shoe and let your performance be the featured presentation. Put your best foot forward and be mindful about the shoes you choose for your performance.


Marissa Anderson is a performer, choreographer, teacher and adjudicator for StarQuest with over 20 years of experience in the dance industry. She also hosts, writes and produces her own podcast on iTunes called “Beyond the Mirror: A Dancer’s Podcast”.