What Dancers Want: Fitting the Broadway Foot

The musical theater world offers a rich array of shows, from Shuffle Along to Mary Poppins to An American in Paris, all of which require different shoes to help animate their characters. The aspiring Broadway performer will need to invest in high-quality character, tap and jazz shoes (and even sneakers!) for rehearsals and auditions. We spoke with three musical theater professionals about what makes their feet look and feel the best.

A specialized character shoe, such as the boot Ryan Blackson wears here in Can’t Stop the Rock on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, adds great detail to a costume.
A specialized character shoe, such as the boot Ryan Blackson wears here in Can’t Stop the Rock on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, adds great detail to a costume.

Bethany Elkin
Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts
at Marymount Manhattan College

DRN: Which character shoes are most popular for female performers?
BE: Everyone in New York wears LaDuca because it’s a really high-quality character shoe. My personal preference is the LaDuca Elizabeth, because it adds extra straps to a normal T-strap to really feel secure for big leaps, kicks and splits to the floor. However, doing summer stock in Seattle, I’ve seen dancers wear more Bloch and Capezio shoes that are affordable but still good quality, such as Bloch’s Splitflex. Dancers should wear a three-inch heel, and tan is preferred by most choreographers.

DRN: Are heeled tap shoes still the staple on Broadway?
BE: Women should have both the tap heels and a pair of flats. For example, in Mary Poppins, the ladies dance in flat tap shoes during “Step in Time.” Broadway tappers now take both rhythm and Broadway-style classes, so it’s important to have both shoes.

DRN: Are there any other shoes that are now trending in the Broadway world?
BE: Contemporary work, involving hip hop, is becoming prominent, so dancers should invest in a good high-top sneaker. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler [In the Heights, Bring It On: The Musical, Hamilton] works a lot of his dances in street shoes, and even West Side Story requires its male characters in Converse. I highly advise against dance sneakers, because they don’t offer enough ankle support.

Ryan Blackson
Performer for Royal Caribbean International

DRN: What difficulties do you encounter when shopping for character shoes for men?
RB: My biggest problem is finding a shoe that does not give me blisters and allows me to point my feet. I find that most character shoes have hard-sole bottoms. This is great for stability if the person wearing them is just doing simple movement, but as a dancer, the ability to show off the mobility of your feet is important.

DRN: Which character shoes do you prefer?

RB: My go-to is the LaDuca brand Edward style soft-sole shoe. LaDuca shoes are comfortable and stable and form to my foot. My personal preference for color is black. I find it matches more of my clothing for auditions, and when I need to provide my own shoes for a gig, black is usually preferred. Just recently, manufacturers have begun to release more color options in character shoes, specifically adding brown, and you can often customize shoes in color and style upon request.

DRN: Do you find you also still need jazz shoes for auditions?
RB: My preference is still a jazz shoe. Some people may say they are dated, but I feel I get the most traction and mobility when dancing in jazz shoes. I prefer Bloch slip-on jazz shoes in black. Unlike other brands of jazz shoes, these shoes have elastic only on the side. Many brands have expanded the elastic around the entire sole of the foot, which constricts my feet. Bloch has a leather bottom that supports the bottom of the foot and makes it more comfortable for me when dancing.

Sarrah Strimel
Broadway Performer, recently in An American in Paris

DRN: Which styles of character shoes do you prefer?
SS: I love open-shank shoes for most of my roles, but the biggest concern is my foot popping out when I point. The T-strap really helps keep the shoe secure. Recently, I’ve been going with a customizable theatrical ballroom shoe from WorldTone called the Arika Nerguiz, which allows me to customize my heel width and height, the shank and the strap. However, for Rock of Ages, which involves a lot of jumping in its choreography, I needed a thicker platform and heel. And for An American in Paris, many dancers went down to a one-and-a-half-inch heel for the 15-minute ballet portion, because the three-inch heel was too difficult on their backs.

DRN: What other jazz and tap shoes do you need for auditions?
SS: For a recent Cats audition, I needed a flat jazz shoe; I prefer a black flat with elastic panels on the side. While I would never audition in a dance sneaker, I often wear them in rehearsals so my feet don’t get as tired. I order custom tap shoes, because I prefer a higher platform with a nice thick heel, but also a split sole, so I can point my feet. I wear three-inch-heeled tap shoes for almost every audition. I would only need a flat tap shoe for a hoofing show, like Shuffle Along.

Amy Smith is a writer and dance teacher in Greensboro, NC.

Photo courtesy of Predrag Opacic Photography

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