A good pair of dance shoes will prevent injury and reduce joint pain but you don't have to spend a lot of money for a shoe that will dance well. Read on to learn from my experiences with synthetic soles, sandals, leather boots, dance sliders, split soled shoes, and more.
The quick answer to what makes a good dance shoe is good support and a leather sole. Leather is long wearing and allows for beautiful turning without wrenching your knees. If you have a pair of leather soled shoes in your closet shine them up and start there. Always start with what you already have so you can figure out what you like and dislike about dancing in that kind of shoe.
I've seen dancers in everything from flip flops to work boots and instructors wearing everything from Tom's to high heel dance sport shoes. All I can say is, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." I have gone through many shoes in an attempt to live blister free and avoid joint pain while dancing for hours on end.
Pro Tip: To avoid blisters, I now baby powder my feet before I put on moisture wicking, seamless toe socks that I slip into shoes that are well ventilated. Works Wonders!
When I first became serious about line dancing I wore my super cute cowboy boots that had a synthetic sole and moved well on the dance floor. I loved these boots . . . until I started dancing in them. I had to buy a gel insert for the ball of my foot because there just wasn't enough padding there. The good news, I didn't blister. The bad news is it just doesn't feel great dancing in these shoes. Verdict: Synthetic sole okay
One week during the summer, when it was very hot, I tried dancing in my expensive sandals. While my feet didn't sweat, or blister, I totally stretched out my sandals because of all the side to side and forward and back motion. Verdict: Don't ruin a good pair of shoes with the wrong activity.
I decided to invest in a nice pair of leather boots from Boot Barn before going to Montana's Country Night Club. While these boots move well on the dance floor they also rub one of my ankle bones to the point of bruising. The seam on these boots buckles in toward my ankle and it is painful. My body literally will not let me put these on again because it remembers the pain. Verdict: You cannot enjoy dancing in shoes that pain you. Shoes may feel fine dancing in the store but will rub you raw after a half hour of dancing. You can't know until you try. Follow up: Because these are leather, I stuffed them with newspaper to try to pop out the part that rubs my ankle. I can now wear them, but I don't dance in them because doing stomps in boots can cause shin splints-no thank you. (1/13/2020)
At a week long dance event my feet were blistered and in pain. At a certain point, I just couldn't put my feet in anything but tennis shoes or sandals. Desperate to get back on the dance floor, I bought a pair of dance sliders that slip over my tennis shoes. I was able to dance the rest of the time in my sliders and tennis shoes, but I must warn you that the felt on the bottom is extremely slippery on a well polished wooden floor. I learned that a friend seriously injured herself because she slipped and fell in her dance sliders and ended up having knee surgery.
At my local recreational center the seniors use The DanceSocks, or cut socks to slip over the front of their tennis shoes or slide wrist sweat bands over their shoes to rest under the ball of their foot for turning. I've never seen them fall, but I've never tried it myself. Verdict: Use dance sliders and DIY hacks at your own risk.
I wanted a pair of split soled shoes like I saw so many people wearing at line dance class so I went online and bought two pair for a great price. These shoes did not dance well at all. They stuck to the floor when I turned and had absolutely zero arch support because of the split sole. However, they received many compliments and envious glances for their cuteness. Verdict: You do not need split soled shoes for line dancing. Shoes that stick are no good even if they are cute. You can't dance on compliments. Follow up: I bought a sheet of adhesive suede that I cut and put on the bottom of these shoes. They are now useable. The split arch doesn't provide enough support for me so I also include an orthotic. I recommend buying a sheet of adhesive suede to cut to fit the sole of your favorite shoes.
One day at a thrift store I found a custom pair of leather dance shoes that were just my size. They dance very well, but there's no padding in the shoe and they tend to make my feet sweat. Verdict: Someone else's custom leather dance shoes are just okay. Follow up: These are great at the local recreational center where we dance on a dirty, sometimes sticky, linoleum floor.
I have considered, but not yet tried, bowling shoes. My parents danced for years in their bowling shoes because they have a leather sole, are comfortable, and provide great support. Verdict: Good enough for Mom and Dad, I'd be willing to try it.
Because I spend a lot of time dancing on floors of varying quality, I've invested in a pair of shoes that are essentially dance sneakers. These shoes allow me to insert my orthotics, provide good slide on the dance floor without being slippery, and allow me to dance for many hours blister free. I will definitely buy another pair when these wear out. I bought these shoes from Ultimate Dance Shoes. Verdict: Dance sneakers are my go to shoe when I can find them!
I hope you've learned something from my experience and I can save your joints some pain and your wallet some money.