A Guide to Choosing the Right Tap Dance Shoes

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Did you know that tap dancing originates from the early 19th century? It started off in the USA as a combination of African and Irish-American dancing. In the 20th century, tap became very popular and was featured in many shows and dancers collaborated with jazz musicians.

It’s a great form of exercise because it improves your balance, rhythm and musicality. A lot of boxers take tap dancing lessons so they can improve their balance and coordination. But to be a successful dancer, you need the right pair of tap shoes.

How Are Tap Shoes Constructed?

picture of three pairs of women legs in leggings and tap dance shoes on their feet on a concrete surface
source: stepupanddance.co.uk

The anatomy of the tap shoes is very important. They’re a sort of an instrument that the dancer plays and creates the perfect tap sound. But not every shoe can sound like that. They have special heels and toe boxes to execute specific sounds and steps.

Heel

The heel of these shoes is located at the very back. Depending on the dance style, the dancer and the shoe, the heel’s height can vary a lot. For instance, if an actor or performer portrays a female character, they’ll wear durable tap dance shoes with a higher heel. For the dancer to feel stable, the heel is usually made of wood or piled leather. When it comes to their height, the heels are always higher than 2.5cm.

Toe Box

The toe box has the function to protect the dancer’s toes. The dancers can make swift and powerful movements thanks to it. It’s made of thick materials, such as leather, canvas, rubber or synthetic leather. No matter what material you get, you’ll get comfort and protection. This is an important part of the shoe because it contributes to the sound you make while dancing.

Topline

picture of a persons feet dancing in tap dance shoes on wooden floor
source: skellefteadansklubb.net

This is the part or the edge of the opening of the shoe. Choosing what kind of topline you want depends on your personal preferences. If you choose a lower topline, your ankles will be more flexible and you’ll have more room for movement. If you choose a higher topline, your ankles will have more stability.

Taps

This is probably the most recognisable part of the whole shoe. And the most important one as well. This is the part that creates the distinctive sound. There are 2 taps per shoe. One is under the heel, and the other is under the toe box. They’re responsible for the sound’s intensity and loudness. They can have different thicknesses and can be made of different materials, but the most common one is metal.

This is because metal makes a distinctive, resonant sound. Every pair of tap dance shoes comes with taps included, but if you want to replace them, you can also buy them separately. If you decide to do so, you’ll get nails and screws so you can attach them to the shoe.

Styles of Tap Shoes

picture of a women dancing with tap dance shoes on them
source: kcballet.org

The way each component is attached to the shoe might vary from style to style. This can have a tremendous effect on the way you sound and dance. That’s why it’s important to know what styles of tap shoes are available so you can make an informed decision.

Mary Jane

The Mary Jane or Merryl Jane shoes are one of the most popular styles on the market. These shoes are made from leather or synthetic materials. They come in different colours such as tan, black or white. They can have either a buckle strap across the foot or an elastic one with a ribbon you can tie at the end. You can only find them with a full sole and are great for beginners and children that are first-time tappers.

Full Sole

Also called flat Oxford shoes, these shoes can be made from leather, synthetic materials or vegan leather. They got their other name because they lace up like a regular Oxford dress shoe. The heel is usually 3cm high and is block-shaped. They’re good for beginners and are often their first choice. The look that these shoes have creates a uniform look among a class that has both boys and girls because it’s not overly feminine and has a sturdy construction.

They provide support to all the muscles in your legs when you tap dance. To break them in, you can also wear them around the house, but avoid any concrete because they will get damaged. They’re good for preventing injuries while doing toe stands and prevent you from making the toe-curling becoming a habit.

Split Sole

picture of Tap dancer performing outdoors in split sole tap dance shoes
source: dance.lovetoknow.com

Have you ever seen jazz shoes? Well, split sole tap shoes are very similar to them, with taps attached to the bottom. The traditional models have a full sole, but manufacturers found a way to make a split sole and make it easier for some people to overcome difficult tap moves. They give you more flexibility and movement. This makes your leg move faster and with ease.

Character Tap Shoe

This is a tap shoe most commonly used by female dancers. Character tap shoes have a buckle strap over the foot, like the Mary Jane style and a range of heel heights from 3.8cm to 7.5cm. This type of shoe is available in leather or synthetic leather, with or without attached taps. They’re considered to be the classics of the tap dance world. Dancers usually wear them when they’re 10-12 years old.

You can make a distinction between character and Mary Jane style tap shoes from the height of the heel and the shape of the tappers. And another difference is the thickness of the tappers. The character style has a thinner tapper where it hits the floor and a wider one where it’s attached to the shoe.

Size and Fit

picture of women dancing with a tap dance shoes on their feet
source: ccda.co.uk

Tap shoes need to fit properly in order to support the dancer as effectively as other types of dancing shoes do. For best shock absorption, tap accuracy, and improved sound quality when dancing, experts recommend a snug fit. You should go for the tighter fit because the shoe will mould on your foot as you wear it. If it hurts on the sides of your foot, it’s too small, go for a size up.

How to Clean Tap Shoes

Given that you’ll wear tap dance shoes only inside, they shouldn’t be very dirty. Either way, you may occasionally see scuffs or stains. The material they’re made of will affect how to clean them. A refurbishing polish or a regular leather cleaner combined with a soft cloth will work for leather shoes. If you have fabric or canvas shoes, use a damp cloth and a little bit of detergent.