Many sports have a particular type of footwear associated with them. Running shoes for running, basketball shoes for basketball, cleats for soccer, etc…
And yes, dancing shoes for dancing. Of course, most hip-hop / “street” dancers are not going to be wearing these “dance shoes”. Especially b-boys & b-girls – they usually want to wear whatever looks fresh.
But are we putting ourselves at risk of injury? Are there better shoes than others?
Good question – let’s look at some science (of course)!
The Footwear Dilemma
Appropriate footwear is a common concern not only for dancers, but for any activity. And for good reason: injuries suck – no one wants to be getting an ankle sprain.
Shoe companies work hard to convince us that their advanced shoe 90-X is the solution to all our trouble. If you spend your money on them they will make you run faster and avoid injury – or so they claim. But how much of this is just marketing hype?
Research has begun to test these claims, and some results have been surprising. Let’s review some important points.
Keep in mind: there hasn’t been much research done on footwear for dancers. Research is usually on classical dance styles, 1 and even that’s pretty inconclusive. There’s none on b-boying specifically, so we’ll have to infer our conclusions from studies on other sports.
First, lets look at function:
If you play a sport that requires traction in grass, like soccer, then you should probably get soccer cleats. Studies have shown that it does make a difference 2.
When you think of what kind of shoe you need, you should first think about what you’re going to be doing in them. How do you need them to function? For b-boying / b-girling, you don’t usually dance in grass…
Therefore, it’s probably a good idea to wear something that’s comfortable to dance in: not too heavy, adequate support and protection, and enough freedom to perform the moves you want. It also wouldn’t hurt to get new ones once they wear out enough to lose support. But there is no research suggesting that buying shoes with small, specific details will enhance sports performance, for any sport!
Next, let’s look at injury prevention:
A review article published in 2009 revealed that no study has ever proven modern running shoes to lower injury rates. 3 This might seem strange to people who are convinced that they need to wear a particular type of shoe because of their foot type (flat food, pronated, supinated, etc). But it turns out that prescribing footwear based on foot shape is too simple! 4
What about shoes with special air / gel / spring cushioning? Don’t they help lower impact? Actually, they don’t make any difference (even after being worn out) according to another study from 2009 5. People just change how they run (slightly, even subconsciously) to keep the force of impact constant!
What about more obvious things, like the fact that wearing high tops should add ankle stability for basketball? Actually, a huge review of evidence from 2008 showed that they don’t really make much of a difference at all 6. To prevent ankle sprains, you’re better off trying braces or taping. High top shoes just don’t work like that.
In summary, don’t waste your money on special shoes in hopes that it will prevent injuries!
Do big companies create misleading advertising?
Oh yes… In fact, check out this interesting news about Reebok: they have to pay 25 million dollars to the Federal Trade Commission for misleading advertisements (that claimed a special shoe helped people lose weight!): http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/09/reebok.shtm
(Disclaimer: I have no problem with Reebok: I have a pair of classics, and I love them – but not because I believe they are going to help me “burn fat”.)
So what shoes then?
Whatever you find comfortable!
Basically, wear whatever you like to dance in. If you feel like a flat sole is better for spinning, that sounds like a good enough reason to get that shoe! Keep in mind what you are demanding from your feet. If you do a lot of dynamic things, you might smack your foot off the floor, so get something with some reasonable support. Lighter shoes are likely helpful as well.
Personally, here’s what I prefer (just my opinion):
High tops look awesome, but sometimes footwork feels a bit restricted – I can’t twist my ankles or pivot as well wearing them (although I did wear high tops in this video – but that was just because they look cool).
Low tops offer a lot of freedom of movement at the ankles, and the flat soles have a good balance of grip / traction and spin / pivot.
So there you have it, my science-based case for bboying in Gazelles.
Bottom line: wear what you like! Avoiding injury is not as simple as wearing the perfect shoe.
Questions: What do you like to wear when you dance? Any suggestions for new dancers? And do you wear different shoes when you dance than just hanging around?