Whether you’re stepping up to an old school Jitterbug or shaking your tail feathers to modern swing, your swing dance shoes are going to have a huge impact on the way you dance. From Lindy Hop or Western Swing, Boogie-Woogie to Modern Jive, whatever your swing style, before you take another step, let’s take a look at what makes a good pair of shoes for swing dance.
Swing Shoes for Men
Men will typically wear an Oxford style or Balmoral style lace-up shoe when swing dancing. Captoe or wingtip oxfords are popular choices and good for traditional style swing dancing like the Lindy Hop as well as more varied dance like the West Coast Swing.
Swing Shoes for Women
For women’s swing shoes, there are a wider variety of options. Some choice come down to personal preference – some prefer flats and others prefer heels; some prefer lace-ups, others prefer a more strappy shoe.
The look is a big part of the swing experience, especially for competitions, so a lot of women, and men too, choose a shoe that suits the fashions of the era from when their style of swing dance was developed. A woman dancing the St. Louis Shag or the Balboa, for example might choose a 1930s or 1940s style of shoe, while a woman dancing Rock and Roll or the Skip Jive might wear something with a more 1950s or 1960s feel.
Other Types of Dance Shoes for Swing
Often women will wear a standard or Latin ballroom shoe with a wide heel for swing dancing, or basic character shoes.
For modern swing, some dancers prefer to wear dance sneakers especially to practice in. As both dance sneakers and men’s swing shoes have a relatively flat sole and only a minimal heel this doesn’t cause too much of an issue with balance or movement. However anyone swing dancing in heels might find an issue switching between dance sneakers and proper swing shoes. Further, dance sneakers have a lot more traction than shoes designed for swing dancing, so wearing dance sneakers for swing dancing might not be your best choice.
Jazz shoes are another common choice for amateur swing dancers. Jazz shoes might be suitable for some beginners but some styles of jazz shoes, particularly the slippers, do not provide the level of foot support requited in swing dancing. Firmer jazz shoes like jazz sneakers or competition jazz shoes provide better foot support, but if you are choosing to dance swing in jazz sneakers, avoid shoes with built in pivot points and other unique jazz reinforcements.
For professionals and amateurs wanting to step up and get serious about swing dancing, a genuine pair of swing shoes is really the only option.
What Makes a Good Swing Shoe?
While cut and style and even heel height are generally a matter of personal choice for both men and women’s swing shoes, there are a few key characteristics that define good swing shoes.
Swing shoes for kids will feature all of the characteristics of good swing shoes for adults, although the shoe will generally have an all over lighter construction.
Swing Shoes Need A Leather or Suede Sole
As with a lot of dance shoes, swing shoes for both men and women are designed with a smooth sole made of either leather or suede to provides the perfect amount of traction you need to execute your most perfect steps, twists and slides.
Leather or suede is often a personal choice. Suede shoes have a touch more traction than leather, and suede also needs some upkeep to keep them clean and to prevent them from wearing slick. If you’re really serious about your swing dancing, any shoes with rubber bottomed soles should be avoided.
Swing Shoes and Heel Height
Some women and men prefer to do their swing dancing in flat shoes, while others will prefer a heel.
A heel can be beneficial when performing back and forth stepping moves, especially in dances like the Jitterbug as it helps to anchor and guide the balance of the foot.
For swing shoes, heels are generally not higher than 2” and some dancers recommend not going any higher than this particularly for beginners. This goes for both men’s and women’s swing shoes. Some professionals and more advanced dancers do opt for a higher heel.
For dancers who do choose to wear a heel, a wide heel is the best choice for optimal balance and foot placement as well as preventing injuries.
Swing Shoes Should be Cushioned and Lined
Men’s and women’s swing shoes should have some degree of cushioned lining to protect the feet from the impact of the dance steps. Ideally this should be a supportive foam.
Some swing shoes have rubber built into the soles to increase impact resistance, especially in the heels.
A fabric lining is also important to control moisture resistance as you’re out there swinging up a sweat.
Swing Shoes Need to Be Supportive but Flexible
Swing dancing involve a lot of footwork, placing the feet in a range of angles, and in some dances, the Balboa for example, it’s all quite fast. To protect your feet from injury while you dance, a supportive shoe is important.
Fully enclosed leather uppers like Oxford style shoes have great foot support. Women choosing a more open style shoe should ensure their shoe is fitted with adequate arch and lateral support as well as secure straps or other closures to keep the foot stable within the shoe.
A good swing shoe will have a secure fit, but won’t be overly tight or allow the foot to slide inside the shoe.
At the same time you want your feet held secure, you also need a shoe with enough flexibility to let your foot move through the full range of motions. Shoe with leather uppers provide a good amount of upper foot flexibility, and open top shoes are the most flexible.
A flexible sole is also important. Good swing shoes are often designed with a split sole for maximum movement, and a lot of high heeled swing shoes will also feature a shorter arch support shaft to allow for greater sole flexibility.
The Best Swing Dance Shoes
These cute heeled ladies Oxfords are just what you need to complete the classic look of the 1930s.
This shoe features an all leather flexible upper that is dotted with mesh openings that not only look great but also provide good breathability. The sole is lined with durable suede that will suit dancers of all skill levels, but while it does feature a wide set heel the 3” height may not suit some beginner swing dancers.
The shoe’s inner features a soft cloth lining and the footbed is fully foamed cushioned for optimal comfort and support.
This is a medium width shoe that runs fairly close to street shoe size, although dancers with wider feet may benefit from ordering a half size up.
Pros – Highly flexibly and breathable upper.
Cons – Heel height may be too high for beginners
Men looking for a great swing dance shoe should consider the wingtip spats from Aris Allen. Made with a super slick leather sole for maximum slide speed, these shoes are designed for intermediate and professional swing dancers though there’s nothing stopping a dedicated beginner from donning a pair. The speed of this shoe suits faster dances like modern jive or rock and roll so beginners could do well to switch to a shoe with more traction to control slower dance steps.
Entirely handmade using high quality durable materials, these sturdy shoes also feature a foam lined footbed for great comfort and support as well as a rubber insert layer in the heel for added impact resistance.
The short lacing system makes this shoe more suitable for someone with a regular or narrow fit foot as the upper shoe fit cannot be adjusted below the midfoot to the toe. Men with wider feet may be better off with a pair of Aris Allen Captoe swing shoes.
Pros – Super sick leather sole for high speed dancing
Cons – Unsuitable for a wide-foot fit
These women’s swing shoes from Tic Tac Toes are a stylish addiction to any lady’s swing dancing wardrobe and with their discount price, a pair of good quality swing shoes can also mean cheap swing shoes.
Constructed with a high quality leather upper and durable suede soles, this swing shoe also features a cushioned inner with additional heel support and a flexible split sole. The wide set heel is 1.5” and is uniquely constructed for maximum shock absorption.
Because of the unique upper foot strap and slide buckle, this shoe will fit a range of foot types particularly wider feet, but may be a touch too roomy in the toe for narrow feet.
Pros – Cheap swing shoes
Cons – Potentially unsuitable for narrow feet.
Theses character shoes from Capezio are an excellent choice for swing dancing and can also be used for other dance styles. Featuring an all leather upper with a suede sole, the Footlight is also constructed with a non-slip heel counter making it a great shoe for dances with short stop steps.
Fully cushioned for impact resistance and comfort, the Footlight also features a brushed micropoly lining for comfort and moisture control.
The adjustable ankle strap and wide fit makes this a good choice of swing shoe for anyone with wider feet, and it is also available in medium fit, running in half sizes from 4 to 9.5. Capezio claims this shoe runs to street size, however a lot of people recommend ordering a half to a full size up.
The footlight is available in black or tan.
Pros – non slip counter heel
Cons – Fit runs smaller to street size for many dancers.
Inspired by 1904s fashions, the unique construction of these shoes features a combination leather and synthetic mesh upper which provides an impressive look along with excellent breathability. With a flexible suede sole suitable for all levels of swing dancing prowess, these shoes are also constructed with a durable and supportive foam lining for comfort and stability. While these insoles are irremovable, these shoes can also be fitted with custom insoles.
The tapered heel runs from 2” to 1.5” wide and is 2” high, a perfect match of stability and height to help counter your balance while you dance.
Available in black and white, while these shoes run true to size for most dancers, the upper foot design might lead dancers with a higher instep to choose a half size up.
Pros – Mesh upper provides excellent breathability
Cons – Upper shoe design might be hard to fit on dancers with a high instep.
Whatever your swing dance, whatever your foot type, there are a pair of swing shoes out there for your feet, matching flare with functionality. Now we’ve seen what to look for in a good swing shoe and looked at some of the best available on the current market, it’s time to hit the dance floor!