Like most belly dancers, I love the look and feel of dancing barefoot. It’s traditional for our art form, so it gives us a connection to our foremothers…but since we’re modern chicks in a modern world, we don’t usually get the chance to dance on the gleaming polished marble floors of temples, or the soft earth of our village square. We might be working in a theater where the stage floor is splintered or the backstage area isn’t optimally clean, or in a restaurant where shards of broken glass from wine goblets or even another dancer’s beads can get into our soles, or even at a street festival on the hot pavement… SO WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR FEET!
Under the umbrella of belly dance, there’s a myriad of performance styles- but luckily, there’s also an abundance of footwear options that will go with any sort of costume you have. Here are some ideas for shoes that will both preserve your tootsies, as well as look great in performance.
Soft and pliable, these shoes come in full-sole or split sole , and there are many options and styles to choose from. Made with uppers of soft leather or durable canvas, ballet slippers will mold to your foot, and feel as flexible as though you were barefoot, while keeping your feet clean as well as protecting them from any debris that may be on your performance surface. Some styles have straps attached; some have elastic straps you can sew on yourself. Ballet slippers have a suede sole, which allows for clean, smooth turn while still providing a bit of traction. If you are using ballet slippers for restaurant or club work, you may want to take them to a shoemaker and have a thin layer of “dance rubber” put on over the suede sole in order to make them a little more durable. This will give the shoe’s sole more traction, and further protect your foot, as well as make the shoe itself last longer. If you get a pair in classic “ballet pink” or beige, the shoes can be dyed to match a particular costume, and they can also be easily embellished with appliqués or rhinestones to jazz them up a bit. Ballet slippers can be purchased on line, or at any dance store. Expect to pay anywhere from about USD $12.00-$40.00 for a pair of ballet slippers. A couple of popular trusted brands are Capezio and Bloch.
These are similar to ballet slippers, but have a full vamp that usually laces up, like an oxford. Jazz shoes don’t really look too glamorous on stage, but because of their thin soles and very small, flat heel, they offer a lot of support and are great for teaching. There are now many varieties of jazz shoes, including lightweight, pliable jazz boots and sneakers, which are great under long skirts or pants. These offer ankle support, as well. Most standard jazz shoes have prices comparable to ballet slippers.
EGYPTIAN DANCE SLIPPERS
Similar to ballet slippers, these Egyptian imports are usually constructed along the lines of ballet slippers, but with an elasticized edge that fits around the top of your foot, as opposed to straps that go across your arch or ankle. They are usually cut low in the vamp and made with a slightly pointier toe than ballet slippers- this makes for a nice visual line. These suede -soled soft shoes are usually available in a range of metallics and colors, and the soles are slightly thicker than ballet slippers. You can find Egyptian dance slippers carried by vendors at dance festivals, or sometimes on line, available through belly dance costume and supply websites. A word to the wise: most Egyptian dance slippers run a little snug, and are sized in standard European sizes, so take this into consideration. If you are buying the shoes online, make sure you know what your Euro- size conversion is! Egyptian slippers range between about USD$15.00-$50.00 a pair, outside of Egypt, that is.
Popular for use in Irish dancing, Ghillies are also a great option for belly dancers. They are soft, pliable slipper-type shoes made of suede or leather, with a flexible suede sole that resembles a sort of hybrid of ballet slippers and sandals, due to the lacing that begins on the vamp of the shoes and continues up to tie around the ankles. These shoes could look great with a variety of costumes, from Cabaret to Tribal, to Goth. The lacing, usually made of cord or rawhide, could be swapped out for ribbons that match or contrast with your costumes. Once again, you might want to add dance leather to increase the shoe’s durability and lifespan. Ghillies usually cost about USD $20.00-$70.00.
These Grecian-look sandals have always been a popular choice among belly dancers. Made of thin, pliable neutral or metallic leather with flexible suede sole, Hermes Sandals look like Grecian Goddess or Gladiator-wear. They are basically a thong sandal fitted with small leather loops around the sides of the sole, and long laces that criss-cross along the top of the foot, wrapping around the ankles - or up the leg as the case may be, similar to the way pointe shoes would be tied. Hermes sandals offer protection to the bottom of your foot, but not a lot of support, and many dancers don’t like the binding feeling of the ties wrapped around the ankle. They are inexpensive (ranging from USD $10.99-$40.00, and look most appropriate for most belly dance styles. Again, Capezio makes a good version of this shoe, as does Dance Shooz.
These study, closed-toe workhorse shoes go well with almost any style of dance. Within the character shoe category are standard tap shoes, Tango shoes, and T-strap and Mary Jane vintage-look “chorus girl”- type styles that would work well with a range of costumes. Usually available in flesh-toned tan and black, they also can be custom ordered in a range of colors and metallics. They are equipped with a hard, thick heel (heights range from about 1.5-3”) and grooved leather sole, which also takes well to a thin application of dance rubber. The oval-shaped toe-box, while giving a streamlined look, fully protects your feet and is unusually roomier for dancers with wider feet. Built for optimal support, these shoes can really take a beating. They work well for all styles of dance, and offer variety- depending on which style you choose, they can work for anything from straight ahead belly dance, folkloric, classic, even a 1920’s or Victorian Gothic flavor. I even have a pair of Capezio Tango-style character shoes that I bought for stage use, but because they were so darn comfy- and foxy – that I wound up wearing incessantly in my “civilian” life! Expect to pay anywhere from about USD $20.00-$70.00 for character shoes, and they are well worth the price!
Hands-down the most glamorous and showy choice for dancers, ballroom shoes offer complete support to the entire foot, and yet look amazing. They come in a mind-bending variety of styles and colors, including loud animal and reptile prints (YAY!) A veritable rainbow of metallic leathers, shiny fabrics, contrasting colors and sometimes-even rhinestone buckles. Style-wise, ballroom shoes can be open toed, close-toed, ankle straps, tie-straps, and made with many different heel heights and widths as well. The uppers are usually strappy, but though they look flimsy, these shoes are constructed with dancing in mind. The soles are suede, and let you really feel the floor, but there is usually a steel shank embedded in the arch of the shoe leading up to the heel, which offers optimal support. Again, you can have the suede soles covered with dance rubber, but it’s not necessary. Ballroom shoes are available “out-of-the-box” but many dancers have theirs custom-made, mixing and matching styles, colors, and even heels shapes and heights to their own personal choice. Either way, expect to pay a lot for these babies. What they ARE NOT is cheap, but they are constructed so well, it’s always a great investment. When I first started dancing, in the early Nineties, at the recommendation of my teacher, I bit the bullet and paid $98.00 for a pair of gold and silver ballroom shoes to use for belly dancing. At the time, I thought I was nuts- why did I spend that excessive amount of money on a pair of shoes when I could put it towards buying a costume? But I wore them incessantly, and it was TWELVE YEARS (and four sets of-re-soling) before I finally had to retire them, due to wear and tear. A dozen years of wearing them three to seven times a week- you do the math! Nowadays, the prices on ballroom shoes range anywhere from USD $50.00- $375.00, depending on what type you get. Do what I did- bite the bullet, you WILL NOT regret it!
In general, professional dance shoes are designed to look good onstage while they protect your feet, and that’s a really smart investment in your dance career!
IF YOU OPT TO DANCE BAREFOOT:
Make sure you have a clean performance surface. If there are other dancers working the stage before you, ask someone to sweep up between performances, so you don’t get a bead embedded in your foot, which is a classic- and very typical- belly dance injury. Carry a package of baby-wipes with you to clean your feet before slipping back into your street shoes, and bring a pair of flip-flops along to get you to and from the stage safely. You may want to bring some band-aids along too, in case of emergency. And check your pedicure! Nothing wrecks your gorgeous stage appearance like dirty, calloused feet with a chipped pedicure!
About Princess Farhana
Princess Farhana has performed, taught and written about Oriental Dance for 18 years. For more info on her worldwide workshops and events, or instructional/performance DVD’s, please visit www.princessfarhana.com.
PO Box 29504
LA CA. 90029-6504 USA
Article appeared in NAFOURA Magazine (July 2009 issue)