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The Most Common Types of Dancing Shoes Used in Musical Theatre

There are so many different types of dances in the world, so it’s no surprise that there are tons of different shoes to go along with them all. Today I want to talk about some of the most common ones, particularly for theatre productions.

Character Shoes:

Character shoes are the quintessential theatre shoe. For women it is a black or nude heel with a strap to ensure the shoe stays on your foot. The heel is typically only 2 to 2 and a half inches. For men they resemble a typical dress shoe but tend to have a little bit of a block heel. These shoes are the most common you will see during musical theatre performances. Typically you’ll only see different shoes if there is a specific costuming choice for a character or more likely, the musical has a specific type of dance that requires a different shoe.

Tap Shoes:

Tap shoes are obviously made for tap dance. They look similar to a men’s dress shoe that has a bit of a block heel to it, but it has a metal plate on the bottom that allows a tapping sound, hence the name. Tap dance is pretty common in musical theatre with several well known musicals having tap numbers including 42nd Street, Anything Goes, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Newsies, among many others.

Jazz Shoes:

Jazz shoes are flexible shoes made out of leather (or fake leather) that conform to the dancer’s foot. They have a tough material on the ball and heel of the foot for turns. These are most commonly used for Jazz dance, but they can be used for many other forms of dance including modern and contemporary. They are also often used for colorguard (not the military kind of colorguard, the kind that dances and spins equipment alongside a marching band. The are great shoes for dance heavy musicals.

Ballet Slippers and Pointe Shoes:

These are both the main shoes seen for ballet. Most people associate ballet with the pointe shoe, a flexible, tight shoe with a wood block to balance the toes on and ribbon that laces up the calf. However, pointe shoes are only used once a dancer is at an advanced level. Most ballet classes, particularly at lower levels, a ballet slipper is used instead. Ballet Slippers are soft flexible shoes that stay on with a couple elastic straps over the top. It has tougher material on the bottom on the ball of the foot as well as the heel for turns. Ballet basics are very frequently used in musicals, but pointe ballet is less common. Some notable musicals with ballet include An American in Paris, Carousel, and On the Town.

Dance Heels:

Dance heels encompass a very wide variety of different kinds of heels, but they are specifically designed for dancing. They are significantly more flexible than standard heels which allows for greater foot movement. These are a great choice when you want to make a bolder costuming choice for a character that does a lot of dancing. They are also used for many other circumstances than just in musical theatre.

There are tons of other types of dancing shoes out there, but these are the most commonly used within the musical theatre world. Obviously there are other situations that may arise in a musical or stage performance in general that requires a very specific shoe, but for the most part, these 5 types of shoes are what you’ll see the most.

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