Tap shoes now come in all different styles and colors, from a traditional black oxford to a tan Broadway-style heel—and even a red, white and blue tap boot. What can dance stores provide to keep up with the latest trends and ensure high-quality sounds? We spoke with two teachers and a student to find out which taps work best for them.
Owner of Miller Marley School of Dance & Voice, Kansas City, KS
DRN: Which tap shoes do you recommend for your clients?
SM: I always recommend Bloch and Capezio for my students, because they have good sound quality. My most advanced students are allowed to wear Miller & Ben shoes, which they often ask for as a holiday gift from their parents, since they’re more expensive. A good-quality shoe can last for years if you take proper care of it, so it’s a smart investment.
DRN: What colors do you prefer your students wear for tap shoes?
SM: I always ask them to wear tan in performances—it goes so much better with their costumes. However, in class, they’re allowed to wear whatever color they wish. I’ve noticed a lot of fun, bright colors, or even a multicolored shoe.
DRN: Do your students ever wear a heeled tap shoe?
SM: My advanced dancers wear a tan, heeled tap shoe for performances. You really have to be a good tap dancer to get the best sound quality out of a heeled tap shoe, because it can be more difficult to work in for younger dancers. So even though I prefer a heeled tap shoe with a dress, I’ll let the student wear a flat tan shoe until they have the skills to perform well in the heel.
Dancer with the Tap City Youth Ensemble, New York, NY
DRN: What qualities do you look for in a good tap shoe?
NC: We really focus on the quality of the sound, so I look for a good, thick platform. That gives my taps a deeper tone, making the sound more clear and professional. The thicker platform also helps with more intricate toe stands. The shoes should be firm, not flimsy and flexible—when I started buying better-quality tap shoes, I had to work to break them in properly.
DRN: How often do you replace your tap shoes?
NC: I usually replace mine every two years. The taps can get scratched easily, and the toe of the shoe starts to bend in a bit. Since you do need time to break them in, I always make sure I have a transition period where I can wear my new shoes for part of class, then go back to my old ones when my feet get too tired. So I definitely don’t buy a new pair right before a performance—
I need a few weeks to get them ready.
DRN: What shoes are you required to wear for classes and performances?
NC: For performances, we are required to wear a black, laced tap shoe with a black sock that comes up to mid-calf, but for rehearsals and classes, we can wear any color we want. I invested a year ago in my first Miller & Ben black tap shoes, but now I’m hoping to save up for a colorful pair as well. One of the ensemble members has a pair of gold shoes that I love. I’m hoping to buy a pair of white shoes with blue accents at the toe.
Founder and Artistic Director of Gulf Coast Theatre on Tap, New Orleans, LA
DRN: What would you like to see dance retailers providing for tap students?
HM: It’s important to do a proper fitting—if a tap teacher could take her class to a store to get fitted for shoes, similar to a pointe shoe fitting, that would be ideal. Some shoes run narrower, like the Só Dança designed by Derick Grant. The Capezio K360s, which I love, have a thicker platform at the heel and ball for good weight and sound, but they are thinner at the instep for more Broadway-style tapping on the balls of the feet. Encourage the students to show the shoes to the teacher before trying them out, so they can exchange them if needed.
DRN: How should shoes vary for an intermediate or advanced tap student?
HM: For our recreational dancers who take one to two classes a week, a single-soled shoe is fine, and also less expensive. But for advanced company dancers who have 6 to 10 hours of tap a week, they need a double-soled shoe for shock absorption and better sound quality. I also require my advanced dancers to have heeled tap shoes, since these will change your weight placement and require a different range of motion in the Achilles tendon. Two-and-a-half-inch heels are ideal, and I love the look of a tan, T-strap shoe. Some of my students splurged for a LaDuca, but it’s really not necessary at that age—a professional Capezio heel works just as well.
DRN: What accessories do you need for proper shoe and foot maintenance?
HM: Screwdrivers are a must, of course. A kit to help students buff out the scuff marks would be great. I also ask my students to have at least one change of socks. I recommend a little foam roller for the calves and a small, spiky ball on the feet to roll out muscles both before and after class or rehearsal. And extra pairs of laces are always handy.
Amy Smith is a dance teacher and writer based in Greensboro, NC.
Photos by Ann McCroskey; Wallace Flores; courtesy of Theatre on Tap