What Dancers Want: Tap Shoes with Sound and Style

An oxford-style shoe with a double sole works best for these Theatre on Tap dancers, since it provides better shock absorption and more professional sound.

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.

Shirley Marley
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?
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.

Tap City Youth Ensemble dancer Nicolette Cure needs a few weeks to break in new shoes.

Nicolette Cure
Dancer with the Tap City Youth Ensemble, New York, NY

DRN: What qualities do you look for in a good tap shoe?
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?
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?
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.

Heidi Malnar
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?
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.

Many students like tap shoes in fun colors for classes, rehearsals and workshops.

DRN: How should shoes vary for an intermediate or advanced tap student?
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?
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

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