Contra Footwear

January 01, 2016

Shoes. They are perhaps the most important part of a contradancers "kit"--protecting the dancer's body from injury AND protecting the floors on which we dance. Lately, several TCD dancers (some of them mere "beginners" in that they've only been dancing 5 years or so!) have been sidelined with injury caused by contra dancing. I decided to reach out to those members of our community who have been dancing more than twenty (!) years to uncover their secrets about shoe selection which has allowed them to survive decades of contra.

Turns out there is remarkable agreement on several traits. Our uber-veterans’ shoe wisdom focuses on: smoothness of soles, cushioning, and support. Smooth soles are seen as necessary to prevent torqued knees. Cushioning is preferred to absorb some of the stomping and tromping which contra dancers tend to do. Support means different things to different dancers. Some prefer a semi-rigid shoe which keeps its shape, protecting the foot from twisting. To others, support means having an arch support which is either intrinsic to the shoe or which they add in the form of a Dr. Scholl's-type insert.

The number of veterans whose shoes had:

--smooth leather or suede soles: 89% !!

--cushioning: 78%

--arch support: 67%

To get smooth soles, opinions are divided. Some prefer hard leather soles such as those found on men's dress shoes or vintage bowling shoes. The advantage is maximal slickness and "stompability". Some like suede soles.

Those in the suede camp often glue it themselves onto the bottoms of their chosen shoes. (The March Hey! will feature a tutorial on how to do this.) No running/athletic shoes are worn by this group. Nada.

Cushioning or shock absorption is found in all our respondents' shoes save two (and they both admit their feet tire after dancing a while). Four veterans dance in shoes which are designed with cushioned foot beds, while the others add cushioning with inserts. One dancer adds *two* inserts in order to get extra shock absorption for the heel.

Finally, and perhaps hardest to quantify, is support. Only one long-timer dances (occasionally, for variety) in shoes which allow "articulation"--dancer lingo for bending the foot to its fullest extent.

Such shoes include dance sneakers and jazz shoes. One of our veterans did try dancing in jazz shoes for a few years, but found his feet would tire and the shoes would twist and cause blisters. When I first started contra, I too tried the delightfully light jazz shoes only to develop shin splints and arch pain within about a year.

Six of our veterans have arch support in their shoes, either built-in or added. This is probably one of those things which is highly dependent on the physiology of your own foot....and age. As we get older, our arches sometimes "fall"--our feet spread and flatten. The arch support can be helpful in preventing pain from this.

It's important to remember that professional and competitive dancers often develop serious foot and knee issues. Just because you see footwear "for dancers" on some website is no guarantee it is designed to protect you from injury. In fact, just the opposite. Dancers are expected to give up their bodies for their art, and they do...but we want you to dance (pain-free) with us for decades!

In the next Hey! we’ll continue this topic by identifying sources for preferred shoes and offering a step-by-step for adding spin-ability to your chosen footwear.

---Lisa Pickel (Hey! Editor, with thanks to former editors Bree Kalb and Dianne Shaw for pointing me downward, as it were, towards our feet!)

Return to blog home