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What Shoes to Wear for Salsa Dancing

Updated: May 11

This audio was recorded by Danny Kalman, the Director of Movers and Shakers Salsa and Bachata Dance Academy. The following text is an unedited transcript of his audio and headers have been added for clarity.

Transcript of Audio:

Let's talk about what type of shoes to wear for dancing salsa. We'll first look at shoes that you might already have in your closet, in case you're not yet ready to purchase dance shoes. I do recommend though purchasing dance shoes as early as possible in your salsa dancing journey because they will really enhance the experience; but just to get out there to your first salsa class or to a salsa dancing club, you can certainly go with shoes that you probably already have. 

Choosing the Right Shoes for Salsa Dancing

In this audio, I will refer to shoes for men or for women, and I'll refer to the men as leaders and the women as follows. It is with the understanding that these days, sometimes those roles are switched.

If you're going dancing for the first time with shoes that you already have, look for shoes that are as slippery as possible. The less traction, the better. For example, if you're wearing athletic shoes, they need to be older and have worn-down soles. Athletic shoes are typically built for traction, so they're one of the worst things that you can wear to a salsa dancing class or a salsa club. But if they're worn down on the bottoms and more slippery worn-down, it's okay, you might get away with it. 

salsa dancing shoes

Salsa Dance Shoes for Men

For men, sometimes dress shoes can be great. Many have rubber soles, but some have harder soles that are more slippery, and those can be perfect. If you're going to wear dress shoes, wear shoes that are smaller and fit better to your foot.

For example, some dress shoes have big, long wingtips that extend out well beyond your toes. It's not ideal because you're more likely to trip on yourself or trip on your partner, or your partner's going to run into you or something like that, and this is kind of splitting hairs if that's what you got. No big deal. Just enjoy the class and put those shoes on. The slippery soles are the more important thing. But if you can also choose some shoes that fit your foot a little more tightly, it's going to be easier to move around in those.

Salsa Dance Shoes for The Ladies

For ladies, it's the same concept. If you're wearing athletic shoes, make sure they have older, worn-down soles. You do not need to wear heels at your first class, and heels make dancing quite a bit more challenging, actually. If you want to wear flats, that's perfectly fine, but make sure that they stay on your foot very well.

If they're kind of like an open-toe shoe, make sure the straps fit securely, snugly around the tops of your feet. You don't want to be floating around in your shoes at all. Again, they should fit your foot very well and then, of course, slippery soles for ladies as well. It's especially important for ladies because in salsa dancing, there is a lot of spinning for the ladies, and you're going to have a much better experience with slippery soles.  

You really do not want to go to a class with shoes with a sticky bottom. It just makes spinning almost impossible, so make sure you have slippery soles. If you want to wear heels, make sure, again, that they're easy to move around and they have to have straps over the top so that they stay on your feet easily and snugly.


What You Need to Know Before Buying Dance Shoes

Now, when you're looking for salsa dancing shoes to purchase, I'll start with a style of shoe that's basically unisex and would work pretty well for men or women. These days, there are shoes that are meant to be indoor-outdoor shoes for dancing, and they look kind of like a sneaker, but they have harder bottoms, so they're a little bit easier to spin. It's kind of like a very hard rubber. Those are popular these days, I think because they're comfortable.

However, they're not going to be the best shoe for spinning, so it's definitely not what I recommend for your first pair of dance shoes. What's better is if you can get shoes that are specifically for salsa dancing and with suede soles.  

For the men, there are really a couple of categories. There are salsa dance shoes with low heels. They might be half an inch, three-quarters of an inch, and these are totally fine for starting out. It's going to make it a little bit easier if you have a low heel, and make sure that they have a suede, slippery bottom.

salsa dance shoes for men

Any local dance shoe store should be able to show you some options. You could get a higher heel, up to about two inches, sometimes called a Cuban heel. What's nice about this is it actually keeps you a little more upright and helps with posture, and they look really nice when dancing, but they are a little bit less comfortable. They do make it a little bit harder to balance, so for the men, you really don't need those to start.


Prioritizing Comfort and Fit When Choosing Dance Shoes

In terms of the fit of the shoe, people say, well, what if they hurt a little bit? They're going to stretch, right? I say, my perspective on this is I never want to buy a pair of shoes that hurts me right away when I'm walking out the door, so snug is good. Again, we don't want extra room in front of the toes, but if they're painful, waiting for them to stretch and break in, they will, but there's really just no need for it, so snug but not painful is perfect.  

There's also something that's kind of considered a practice shoe. It looks kind of like a sneaker, but it has a suede sole, and the soles are typically a bit wider, so they're easier to balance, and they can be really comfortable. That's an option as well, but I don't recommend that for your first pair of shoes.  

For men, a low heel suede sole, specifically for salsa dancing, and then a black shoe because you can wear it with so many different things, is a really good shoe for starting out, and then after some time, if you want to explore other styles of shoes, that makes sense.

For the ladies, you don't have to wear heels. You can wear dance flats, that is okay, but I do recommend starting to wear some type of dance heel to at least start to get used to it. It does make the balance more challenging, but traditionally, ladies do wear heels when dancing salsa, and they look really beautiful, and if you can start getting used to that, it's going to build strength in the ankles and calves as well, and it looks really nice.

It keeps you up and helps with the posture too, but you don't have to get a super tall heel. You don't have to get a super skinny heel to start, so you can have a heel that's maybe just one and a half inches to start. The base can be a little bit wider, and that will help with balance, or if you're more comfortable, maybe you have more routinely walking heels anyway, you could get up to a two and a half inch heel, and then a little bit narrower base, and that will keep you even more upright.  

salsa dance shoes for women

It's okay, we do want to get used to spinning and dancing in these heels, but if a tall heel makes it way too challenging, adds a lot of extra challenge to you for your dancing when you're starting off, then it's not really necessary, because you're going to spend so much time focusing on technique and details in class anyway, to add that extra challenge if you're wobbling all over the place all the time, don't make it too extreme, like get a heel that's maybe low enough that you can handle it without making life too difficult, and any salsa heel will have straps over the top, so they'll fit snugly to the feet.  

The toes should go right to the edge of the shoe, some ladies like the toes to go slightly over the edge, but it's not necessary, maybe it's a little less comfortable, but if the bottom of the sole is extending well beyond the toes, then that's too big, so try to align that with your toes as well as you can. Again, I'll emphasize that if it's your first time going to a salsa class or a salsa club, don't even worry about this; just find something in your closet with slippery soles, and you're good to go.

Once you commit to taking classes routinely, even just once a week, then I highly recommend getting dance shoes as early as possible. It will enhance the experience; it's so much easier to move in them, spinning's going to be easier, and because they're snug on your feet, all of your movement is going to be much easier and, most importantly, as always, just enjoy the process of learning and dancing salsa. 


Salsa Classes in Los Angeles 

If you're in Los Angeles and interested in learning salsa, Movers and Shakers offers progressive, structured, and comprehensive programs designed to teach you from the basics up.  

Our seasoned instructors are dedicated to guiding you through each step, ensuring you gain confidence and skill on the dance floor. Perfect for dancers of all levels, this is your chance to immerse yourself in the vibrant world of salsa.  

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