“High Volume” Shoe Shopping
How to choose your perfect pair of tap shoes
Tap shoes come in all different forms: high heels, flats, hard shank, split sole, hard toe, soft leather upper, etc. There are so many different styles, materials and even colors to choose from, that finding the right pair for you might be tougher than you think. Luckily, tap shoes can at least be categorized in a way that helps you see the similarities and differences among all the options there are available to you.
There are many varieties within the variety of tap shoes you can find today. One of the most basic differences you’ll find is flat vs. heeled tap shoes. Most flat tap shoes are available in oxford or Mary Jane styles and typically include a wide heel that is approximately 1 inch high. Heeled shoes often have a narrow heel that can range from 1 to as much as 5 inches, depending on the dancer’s needs. Oxford-style shoes typically produce deeper, louder sound and are more articulate for fast tapping, while heeled shoes provide lighter sounds and cleaner leg lines.
Another aspect of tap shoes that varies is the material it’s made from. Most tap shoes come in standard leather, whether flat or heeled. Some shoes can be found in patent leather and even some can be found in alternative materials like canvas and suede. You can also choose how heavy or light your shoes are built with some varieties. Professional grade oxford shoes like the Capezio K360 and the Miller and Ben “Jazz Tap” and “Triple Threat” can be built with thicker platforms on the toe and heel, which help create more sound resonance and a deeper tone when the shoe strikes the floor. Shoes made with a thinner platform will have a lighter and more treble-quality timbre.
If an oxford-style is chosen, one then has to consider the various options that can be found within that sub-category. Some oxford-style tap shoes such as the Capezio K360 and the Bloch “Jason Samuels-Smith” come made as a standard lace-up oxford shoe, while others like the Bloch “TapFlex” and the Leo’s LS3007L are available as a slip-on (without laces) shoe. Heeled shoes and Mary Janes typically come with a buckle, but some heeled shoes are available with laces, such as the Miller and Ben “Broadway Diva” are designed with laces like an oxford but with the high, narrow heel. You can also find shoes with a solid hard shank sole, which provide durability and stability, or shoes with a soft sole or split sole (no shank), which are beneficial for those tappers who prefer flexibility in the arch of the shoe for tricks like toe stands.
Some shoes can even be customized with colors, patterns and accents. K360s are available in a variety of build-up options and buyers can choose to order them in non-neutral colors such as hot pink and lime green if they want. The same can be said for Miller and Ben shoes, which in addition to customizable color can also be ordered in various patterns and textures like metallic, snake skin and alligator.
Now that you have a sense of how many varieties there are in tap shoes, the next step is to decide which one is the best fit for you. One of the first things to consider when choosing a tap shoe is what you will be using it for. What style of tap dance are you going to be doing? What classes will you be taking? Does your teacher have specific requirements? If you’re going to be working with steps and combinations that are classical (in the style of Astaire/Rogers or Broadway based), perhaps a shoe with a high heel would be more appropriate than an oxford-style (flat) pair. If you’re going to be doing fast, heavy hoofer footwork, an oxford-style shoe with a heavy build for better sound production is the best choice.
The most important piece of advice one can take when it comes to choosing a tap shoe is to try it on before you buy it. You can like the way a shoe looks as much as you want, but if it doesn’t feel comfortable or sound the way you wanted it to when you put it on and use it, it doesn’t do you any good. You have to wear this shoe while stomping and doing toe stands and striking various hard surfaces for often hours at a time. You need to make sure the shoes fit you in every way you need them to, be it looks, comfort, sound and choreography/style.
There are so many tap shoes of all different kinds available in the world right now, possibly too many to even decide between in one store visit. One thing is for certain though: regardless of what specific needs you have as a tap dancer, with the seemingly endless variety of tap shoes available on the market right now, you are very likely to find the right shoe just for you.
Professor of tap dance. | Bachelor’s and two Master’s degrees from Florida State University | instructor and director of the tap program at several studios and conservatories in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Fleming Island | dancer/singer for the internationally acclaimed band, The Cruxshadows | performed on stages at major international festivals | director + founder Noise Complaint Dance Company.