Everything You Wanted To Know About SHOES

At first glance, all Irish dance soft shoes look the same…or do they? While they all have a similar look there are a number of differences between the many brands, which brings me to my second article on Irish dance supplies.

Irish dance shoes fall into two broad categories – soft shoes and hard shoes. There are different names for soft shoes depending on where people live such as pumps, ghillies, lights or even slippers. Hard shoes can also be called jig shoes or heavies.

I’ll start with a few notes on hard shoes since it is a much easier topic in which to delve.

The teachers of Goggin-Carroll prefer shoes from Rutherford (of New York) because their tips and heels are superior in quality. This helps a dancer achieve maximum sound when dancing. Never, ever buy shoes with red or green tips (I haven’t seen blue or pink but just in case, don’t buy those either). Ideally, one should avoid brown colored soles (although since they are more economical, they are OK for Advanced Beginner). Brown colored soles are much thicker making the ability for one to point/arch their feet in the shoes very difficult. Also, an unpointed foot with a brown sole is far more noticeable to a judge when competing versus the alternative which is a black colored sole. A tip for competition for those with brown soles is to use a thick black marker to blacken them up. Like everything else, be sure to check with a teacher before buying anything, especially if ordering anything from an online/overseas company. Our reasoning for requiring certain shoes isn’t to control you but to share our years of experience in this industry to help you make the best choice.

Black soled shoes are thinner and far more flexible which are ideal for medium to advanced level dancers. Dancers aged twelve and up are eligible to dance en pointe (aka stand/walk on their toes) so they should have shoes which accommodate for this movement.

Either way, it is OK to buy shoes with a little bit of room to grow into (for those who are still growing) but keep in mind that the leather will stretch and may stretch too much if there was too much room in the first place.

Hard shoes should be laced up tightly and secured with the attached strap. Championship level dancers like to use electrical tape for a tighter fit (and to hide the laces) but this is not necessary in AB, Novice or Prizewinner. Tape ruins the leather; stretching out the shoes which leads them to falling down at the back of the heel. This can cause blisters and as such, tape will be required to keep the shoes on. So, avoid using tape in the first place please. Usually, dancers in the grade levels “want to be like the big kids” so they will ask you for tape. While the tape does give a tighter fit, it pulls the leather of the shoe each time it is ripped off, stretching them out.

Soft shoes are more complicated but can all be summed up with ONE GOLDEN RULE: Buy them only if the fit really, really tight. Soft shoes stretch more than you can imagine, and there is nothing worse than trying to perfect the technique of a dancer who is wearing baggy-fitting soft shoes. Never buy them with room to grow, even if the shoe vendor at a competition says they are fine. Ideally they should be so tight that the dancer can’t even do them up the day they buy them. Break them in by wearing them untied so the leather stretches to form a perfect fit. I would love to say that all shoe vendors will fit every dancer perfectly but sometimes this hasn’t been the case. When in doubt, try to find a teacher.

Different brands suit different feet. There is no perfect shoe, despite the advertisements. A few other rules to consider include: speaking to a teacher before buying anything, minimizing the black toe cap, ensuring a lot of white sock is visible across the top of the foot where the laces crisscross, and choosing black soled shoes (or else do the marker trick).

The best advice with soft shoe purchases is to try on several brands rather than choose what others recommend. Some brands suit long feet, some suit flatter feet and some only look right with perfectly turned out feet. If you find a pair that magically makes a dancers’ feet look turned out and high up on their toes, LET ME KNOW ASAP!

A teacher may inform you that your child needs new shoes. We realize the expense of buying new ones (remember to check the second-hand bins in the studio) but we are recommending such with your child’s best interests at hand. When the shoes become too stretched to have full control of them when pointing one’s feet, they will hinder your child’s chances of placing/winning at competitions. Using big shoes as ‘practice’ shoes never allows the child to sense the feeling of a perfectly pointed foot so they will never fully develop that trait of a perfect Irish dancer. If there is room in the toe when your dancer points their foot – get rid of the shoes (if they are serious about competing).

Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of properly laced Irish dance shoes. The laces of shoes must be neat and tidy and above all, tied very tightly in double knots also pulled tightly. Re-tying of shoes wastes a lot of time in class and having a shoe come undone while on stage at a competition can be a stressful and possibly traumatic situation. Laces on soft shoes should be wrapped on top of previous lines and should never come higher than the ankle bones. Always tuck in the bows on the outside of the ankle by the ankle bone to keep the feet looking neat.

Learn how to tie the soft shoes and have practice sessions at home with your dancer regularly until they get the hang of it.

So there you have it. Everything you need to know about Irish dance shoes. Good luck.


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