Shoes – part I: Flats and Slippers

My very first purchase for dancing, after the second class, was of shoes. When you’re dancing, your feet work a lot, and therefore any issues with your feet or footwear will reflect on your comfort, dancing and of course could even affect your health. Plus sizes have the extra disadvantage of generally having wider feet, and can also have weaker joints that makes finding the right shoe critical for a safe, enjoyable practice.

Ballet shoes
My first purchase, and one that a lot of people use, were ballet shoes. Black, unassuming, and almost as comfortable as being barefoot, they are easily available and generally inexpensive. I would advice, however, against purchasing them online unless you have no other option, at least for the first pair, for the simple reason that every manufacturer has their own sizing, and the difference between snug enough and too tight is too small. You might find that your feet like one manufacturer’s better than others, or that someone’s 7 1/2 wide are someone else’s 9 standard. The best way to avoid frustration is to walk into a specialised shop, and ask. Tell them what you are looking for and why, they will be able to advice you properly.

Once you’ve got your brand new ballet shoes, there are some things you might want to do. First is to turn it inside out and sew the fabric sole all along the inside if this isn’t  done already. Usually these thin fabric soles are glued in place; while you’re dancing the heat tends to soften this glue and soon enough you will find the soles bunching up in uncomfortable places. Sewing it in place prevents this from happening.

The second thing you will want to do is to make sure those lovely elastics they come with are sewn in place and at the right angle and length. I prefer to wear mine as an X from just in front of the ankle bone to pretty near the front, but experiment with this until you find something that doesn’t bother you. Remember, the idea is to keep the shoe firmly in place in the middle of all your arabesques, gliding and shimmies, so you should aim for solidity, not prettiness. Shoes are usually covered by the skirts during performances anyway, at least if the skirt is cut to the right length, so don’t worry too much.

Good ballet shoes should see you perfectly well thought class. Some people, particularly those with wider feet, will find that the thin, short sole of the ballet shoes makes them feel unstable on their feet, or “pinches” in the wrong places. If that is the case, then these won’t be for you, although don’t discard the possibility of using them if you are in need of a particular colour of shoe to finish off an outfit: in this case, the white canvas, easily dyeable ballet shoes will come handy and save the day.

Ballerina Flats
Quite a few people in my class has tried these at some point or other. Either the standard flats or the currently very popular foldable party shoes, the kind that come in a little bag for you to change into after your feet have given up the ghost if you’ve been partying hard. These are comfortable but not the sturdiest, although most of them do have the required elastic around the opening to stay on your feet, so while they might be good for showing off your moves at that party or an ocassional performance, I wouldn’t choose to wear them for class. If you do choose to use these, make sure that the bottom is somewhat smooth, to help you with gliding and turning. If you choose to wear standard ballerina flats, make sure you add the elastics to help keep them in place, otherwise you will find yourself stumbling quite often.

Chinese Bellydancing Slippers
Don’t. Save yourself money and aggravation, and just don’t. If my word isn’t enough, I can give you a reason. These are knock-offs the egyptian bellydance slippers. But instead of suede or leather soles, as the originals have, they have made them with a fake suede that has a bit of a “foam” consistency. They will feel very comfortable and cushiony for as long as it takes you to wear them through, which in my case, was about a week where I practiced around one hour daily. They are easily available all over Ebay and even, to my dismay, at some specific bellydancing websites, selling them as Turkish (they aren’t).  The worst of it is, these are not that cheap comparing with the Egyptian ones, there’s just a couple of pounds’ difference, but saving yourself that little will result in needing to spend more quite soon.

Egyptian Bellydancing Slippers
Do, if you’ve got the chance. These are usually made with leatherette tops, but a double layer of leather or suede inside and outer soles. They are sturdy, are usually hand-sewn, and can last a long while. They tend to come in two versions, one with a teensy heel -around 1.5cm or just over half an inch-, and completely flat. I prefer the flat versions. They normally come in silver and gold, although some sellers have started offering them in other colours, and so far in the UK I’ve been able to find red, green, turquoise, black and cerise, all with silver,  and saw red and blue brought from Cairo. They  all tend to be done in metallic colours, most commonly gold and silver, and if you are doing tribal or you feel your gothic heart shrinking at the idea of  glitter on everything, you might find them a bit off-putting. I’ve resigned myself to the bling in exchange for their suitability.

The only issue I can see with purchasing them is that Cairo uses metrics and European sizes, so if you’re in the UK or US, make absolutely CERTAIN that your intended size is the one you’ve requested. Also, since they’re done by hand mostly, the sizing can be a bit erratic.



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