There is a video out there in the world, probably several, of a long-legged burlesque artist gracefully walking across a parquet floor and then suddenly wiping out in the middle of her act, full on Bambi-on-ice style.
Yes, that was me. Hopefully those people filming with their phones just laughed a bit later and then deleted the video.
That wasn’t the only time I had an issue staying vertical onstage. It happens to all of us. One minute we are strutting our stuff and on top of the world the next second we are in a pile on the floor, not quite sure how we got there. That’s life, isn’t it?
But it doesn’t have to be that way for your stage experiences. With the proper footwear and preparation, you can be confident to slay that audience with your performance.
The search for proper footwear
Since I had those two incidents, both while wearing platform shoes, I realized that I needed to stop going for the cute shoes for my acts and go back to dance basics in order to keep myself safe. I needed to find shoes that had the following characteristics:
- Flexible soles
- Less than a 5” heel
- No platform
- Leather or suede
And so I found these ones.
I bought 3 pairs with the intent to dye them to match my tights. They were still stylish and sexy, and sort of flexible. Unfortunately, a few shows in, I realized that they weren’t supportive enough. The last time I wore them for a show, my heel sipped out and I almost rolled my ankle onstage. I realized that as beautiful as they were, they just weren’t meant for my style of dancing. I need shoes where my feet were supported and didn’t slide around in them.
So I went online to see what I could find. Ballroom shoes seemed too flimsy to me to do what I needed them to do, but I was in luck when I came across these lovely leather ones on jjhouse.com. (Out of stock at the moment, but they also come in black!)
They have been the best shoe purchase I’ve made in a long time. I’ve had them for over a year, they are flexible, supportive and are dark enough to match my toffee colored fishnets. (Which I wear proudly as they are the same color we all wore at Jubilee to make our legs look uniform and tan.)
But, even though I purchased them and rehearsed in them and even performed in them as is, I needed to make some modifications. The bottoms are suede, and some of the stages I perform on are quite slippery. I thought I would be ok, but trying to give it your all when you are slipping and sliding around onstage makes for a less than desirable performance.
Preparing shoes for stage
While in Jubilee, I went through probably 25 pairs of shoes. In each line, we had different shoes for different acts. Silver and tan were the basics that we wore for multiple numbers, but then we had special ones for a couple of numbers and those lasted for-eh-ver.
But they didn’t make us go onstage with them right out of the box. That would have been a disaster. See, the stage was a giant metal, mobile machine. It had steel rails running the depth of the stage and elevator pieces that created large cracks all over the stage—some cracks were larger than a standard dance heel. It was quite the precarious situation we were placed in night after night. We just learned where to go and not to go.
In order to navigate the treacherous stage, they sent our shoes to the cobbler to add some features to allow us to do our jobs better.
- Rubber soles for less chance of slipping on stage
- Elastic at the ankle in case a strap broke or popped (you wouldn’t believe how many times this happened a night!)
- Heel braces to eliminate the chance of a heel snapping off
Maintenance operations included
- Reinforced buckle elastic
- Spray paint to maintain uniformity and keep the show looking its best
- New heels if they still snapped off
- Re-rubbering a couple times a month for some pairs
- Adding thick suede to the back of the inside of the heel to reinforce the heels after they had been slipped on and off in quick changes
Any cobbler can perform these operations, for a price.
I used to get mine rubbered at a little shop in Aurora, but after getting it done on three pairs of shoes and spending a little over $100, I thought there has to be a DIY/cheaper way. I now rubber my own shoes, and will share a post in the future of just how to do that!
Make sure that you break in your shoes before stage, and for goodness sake, rehearse your act in them!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard performers get nasty blisters or lose their confidence onstage because of they didn’t realize their shoes were not supportive, too stiff or slippery.
If you have ever worn pointe shoes in your life, you know how to break in a pair of shoes. It’s the same for leather ones. I buy mine just a bit smaller because leather stretches and forms to your feet.
How to break in leather shoes:
- Gather your supplies–your new shoes, rubbing alcohol and some cotton pads.
- Saturate the cotton pad in rubbing alcohol and rub it all along the insides of the shoes.
- Put on and wear around the house until the alcohol dries.
- Repeat until they fit your feet and don’t rub anywhere.
Why the heck should I bother with all of this prep?
If you have ever experienced a time when you were doing your thing, loving the audience, loving your life and shining under that spotlight, and then BOOM! all of a sudden you are doing unintentional floor work, you should know that you might have avoided that mishap.
I’ve seen it happen, and to some of the most seemingly confident performers.
The benefits to properly prepped shoes:
- More controlled foot work onstage
- Longer lasting so you save your dough for more sparkles!
- More confidence in your performance
Why would you chance it if you know that your performance could be that much more polished by having the properly prepared footwear?
Also, don’t use street shoes for the stage and vice versa. Shoes wear out a whole lot faster when you use them to walk on concrete. Save your dollars for more fun things!
I hope that this post has been helpful in sharing my show shoe requirements and prep. If you have any additional tips to share, please comment below!
Athena, aka Gazella