Why Men Should Wear Heels (How Wearing Slick Leather Shoes Made Me A Better Dancer)

This post is is related to Sarah’s post on why ladies should conquer wearing heels. I would like to elaborate based on my personal experience why I believe learning to dance in Hard Leather Dress shoes dramatically enhanced both my dance technique, leading technique, style, range of variations and best of all….how I looked in a suit. 😉

I used to be ANTI-slick shoes. Of course I was; I couldn’t slide for sh*t and doing a swing out felt darn near impossible without slipping around like Bambi. Seriously, what lead wants to look like Bambi? Exactly. The immediate disappointment always kept the good ol’ slick shoes in hibernation. Not to mention, I had subtlety convinced myself that dancing in street shoes or moreover “stickier” shoes was the cool thing to do. Obviously, for me, those days are long gone, but if you are finding yourself in “similar shoes” then I insist you read on and hopefully get the motivation to eventually conquer the slick’s.

I now dance 95% of the time in my Hard Leather Dress Shoes. The remaining 5% I use hard rubber Dress shoes, when I need extreme control and power with no room for error. An example would be doing a routine like “Jitters” where we are dancing full stretched Swing Outs at over 300 bpm. Here we are all in hard rubber shoes. The girls are also not in Heels. This is an example of that remaining 5%, at least for me personally.

Before we go on. I want to define some stuff for the purpose of this post.

  • Technique – Body Movement, Rhythm, Ability to Lead, Ability to Follow, Style, Creativity and the ability to do all things dance related. Lets lump it all into one. Better Dancing happens when all this stuff is done better. Therefore, when I say better technique, think better execution of all of the above. Add to the list if you wish. 😉
  • Slick Shoes – Hard leather dress shoes, sueded shoes, something that is slippery. They might even be rubber on a super slick floor. The idea is they slip, slop and slide.
  • Sticky Shoes – Tennis shoes, Rubber soles, stuff that doesn’t allow for decent slides.
  • Nice Shoes- Shoes that are comfortable and look freaking awesome with what you are wearing.
  • Lame Shoes- Shoes that are not optimal for your feet, look really bad with what you are wearing or both.

How Slick Shoes Can Help You Improve Technique

I feel like swing dancing is a constant balancing act. Finding balance between my partner and I while tensions are constantly changing is a enormous task.  Sticky Shoes make this easy for me to cheat. I simply grip the floor with my feet and use my muscles to compensate leading to more contractions and less stretches.

With Slick Shoes, I can’t grip, squeeze and compensate because I will slip or loose control. When I notice a major loss of control, loss of rhythm, loss of power I know I am not using my body as well as I could be. This confrontation with personal failure pressures me to be in better positions where my body weight balances the tension between my partner and I. On top of that it pressures me to pulse better in order to release excess tension to avoid slipping and loss of Rhythm.

In Sticky Shoes, due to the fact that I can compensate for worse body movement and positions with excess muscle tension, arm leading and floor gripping, I don’t have the opportunity to meet MR. FAILURE. This is what slowed down my ability to improve the quality of Rhythm, Body Movement, and Body Leading for many years. When the current system works, I.E. IS NOT FAILING, I don’t fix it. The reason is not that I don’t care, but I don’t even know what to fix because I can’t see or feel the problem!

It is completely possible to dance with amazing technique in Sticky Shoes. It is also completely possible to dance in Slick Shoes with horrible technique. What I am trying to say is that when things appear to be working, they don’t get the attention needed to fix or improve them. I see it all the time when I teach private lessons. I point out stuff to work on, and while I am there reminding them it is ok, but soon after the students revert to habit, cause habit works. However, habit won’t make you a better dancer! Change nothing, and nothing will change. Change is the difference between where we are now, and where we hope to go with our dancing. Moving on…


The First Step

I will assume that dancers who have not mastered Slick Shoes have more control in Sticky Shoes, (assuming they are not too sticky and inhibiting for movement). That is the way it is for me and many others that I have spoken with. If you have been dancing for a while, you have probably obtained a certain level of rhythm, control, and fun. Let that be your mental standard for comparison. This level of yummyness is what you must try and achieve when putting on Slick Shoes. This is only the first milestone, but if you can get this far, you will have made lots of improvement in your technique. FOR SURE!

Learning to do everything you can do in Sticky Shoes while using Slick Shoes is not easy. It requires change! You can’t go about it thinking “the way I currently do things is awesome!”. Honestly,  If you put on a pair of Slicks, and you are killin it, then congratulations, you probably have great technique. Chances are, it won’t end up that way. It didn’t for me, but I focused on results and changed my dancing dramatically to get them. Now when I put on a pair of Sticky Shoes, I know I am using better technique, and when I put on my Slicks…well, this is what it currently looks like. Not to mention, Sarah is killing it in her Heels as well! Regardless, I still confront failures in my Slicks that teach me more about the types of adjustments I need to make to become a better dancer. Now that I am comfortable, relaxed and stable, I am on the road to discover more ways to take advantage of what Slick Shoes will let you accomplish.

Read on if you like…

More Reasons to Wear Slick Shoes

Slides

Sliding is probably one of the most unique aspects of lindy hop that sets it aside from other partner dances. I watch old clips from the spirt moves in awe when I see all the slides and the juicy rhythmical variations that slides can produce. It is unfortunate the more people are not doing it.


Warning! A slide is not a move! Sliding or “micro sliding” is a way of moving. Every single step is slide-able. Moreover, sliding for me is much more a function then it is a style, it just so happens that it looks badass. If you think of learning a slide/move, like you learn a new variation, you will never get the bigger picture of what sliding is all about.


Health

Slick Shoes are much easier on my knees and related joints. When I lindy hop, I do a lot of circular/pivotal movement on the balls of my feet, and slick shoes allow for the least amount of resistance for my knees and ankles while doing this. I used to mostly consider the cushiness of a shoe and jump into a pair of tennis shoes for the squish to relieve my back/foot pain. I did this without considering the toll it will take on the knees and related joints. I have learned over time that Slick Shoes are more forgiving on my body, especially since I can finally use them. Most of all, what I really learned was that good body movement has helped me maintain the best possible heath and sustain 8+ hours of dancing a day.

Compare it to Typing: Learn your home keys. Learn to type properly. You may struggle for a while but avoid long term injury that is associated with “bad typing” technique. Same goes for dance.

Learning to move well in slicks, makes your technique better, which makes dancing easier, which makes it less damaging to your body, and your partners.

If you need more comfort, buy nicer shoes, put insoles inside or experiment with 1 of the many options for increasing the support and comfort of your Slick Shoes.

Style & Fashion

After Sarah’s post, I was shocked at how ANIT- STYLE some people are when you must sacrifice a little comfort. WOW. I say, drop the excuses, and find a way to look and feel good. End of story. There is nothing more disappointing stylistically then going from head to toe on a decently dressed man(or woman) to find a pair of tennis shoes at the bottom of what could have been a great out fit. Just wear some stylish shoes and ditch the excuses. I think dress pants and suits look silly with Tennis shoes. It’s not as cool as the real deal or a stylish fusion dress/street shoe. If you need help here, just ask, I have been through more shoe drama then the average debutante living in Manhattan and more back pain than most UPS drivers.

Shoe Options

#1 Hard Leather, Heeled Dress Shoes

  • Option 1 – The Pro Build: All Leather Sole, All Leather Heel – This is the ultimate social dancer build. Allowing for the maximum slip slop potential and equal consistency along the whole shoe. Most Nice Dress Shoes, come with a rubber or partial rubber heel. You will need to take your shoes to a shoe smith (cobbler) and get a full leather heel installed. Costs about 25-50USD depending on how much leather is used and how good your shoe smith is.
  • Option 2 – The Standard Build: All Leather Sole, Rubber Heel – Most nice dress shoes are built with a rubber heel now-a-days. The rubber heel adds a little more stability when you drop the sticky heel, but the inconsistency isn’t worth it if I have my pro builds with me. I feel it is more constricting since it is less predictable. I wear this shoe when I teach and walk around all day and have to go inside and outside and don’t want to carry another pair of shoes.
  • Option 3 – The Illusionist: Rubber Sole, Hard Leather Heel – This is really interesting and rare build that few use. I think Sackarias mentioned he also like this build. Of course there are probably more… This is a dress shoe, with a rubber sole backed with and all leather heel.  The rubber sole gives you that extra grip and control while allowing for fatty heel slides. This is a novelty build, which is fun to play with but probably not the best if you are only going to have one pair.

#2 Hard Rubber, Heeled Dress Shoes and Fusion Street Shoes – There are a lot of shoes that are designed to look great with dress pants and suits that are built with hard rubber buttons. I have a few pairs of shoes like this for the rare performance that requires more control and of course requires that my outfit still looks good. 😉 I used to really blow big time. I regret looking back at old videos when I am dancing in some stupid tennis shoes or street shoes that just look lame with my suit. Vincenzo, he always did it right, he just put rubber on his Stacy Adams, looked twice as pimp and got the grip he needed. Thanks for showing me the light Vince.

#3 Sueded Tennis Shoes – This might appear like a good stepping stone but personally, it is not even worth the time. Yes, they are slick, and will show you some flaws. However, I can find nice dress shoes that are just as comfortable, look nicer for swing dancing, and look much better with my suits. Dress shoes also last longer and have a heel. I can also wear my dress shoes outside without feeling guilty that the sole is going fall apart.

Side Note: I feel that when we wear tennis shoes, we easily gravitate towards jeans, track pants, UFO pants, raver jeans, Modrobes, and all pants that go with shirts that make outfits that aren’t super cool for Vernacual Jazz, Balboa, Swing, and Lindy Hop. I have been there. Wore all that stuff at one time, but personally my view of what is cool has totally changed.  Some of you may hate me for saying it, but sweat pants almost killed the lindy hop. Regardless, feel free to wear what you like. I say “time and place”, and following that you will probably know when it is best to bust out what will get you more compliments and less funny looks.

Practicing

You are going to want to wear what you practice in to a social dance. It is your comfort zone. So don’t get comfortable in shoes that you don’t plan on wearing out or you will always find an excuse to wear those sueded tennis shoes, regular tennis shoes, and cluade hoppers. Next thing you know, you will probably end up going out in sweat pants and track pants if you are not careful. ;

If you wear Jeans, sueded tennis shoes might look fine,  but personally, I have pretty much stopped wearing jeans while dancing. For me, they are so much more uncomfortable to dance and sweat in. *Skinny Jeans are my personal exception, cause I love skinnies and the clean lines! 😉