Buying and Caring for Cheap Ballroom Shoes
I do apologize that this will be a Vancouver-centric post, but if any of you who don't live here happen to come visit, this is a MUST visit for all burlesque performers. The latter part of this post will deal with how to properly care for them.
So here in Vancouver, we have what is becoming a legendary source for the broadest array of high-quality, inexpensive, ballroom dance shoes. Have you ever seen a selection like this?
This is only half of what is on offer for a flat price of $45 Canadian per pair. No matter if they are rhinestoned, glittered, satin, lace... it's a flat $45. Pay cash and you can get them tax free, and if you make friends with Monica, who works here 7 days a week, she will always give you eiher some sort of discount or freebee item.
To be clear, although they are inexpensive, these really are high quality shoes with real suede soles, dance buckles, and good footbed padding. She has a variety of heel heights and too many styles to describe.
Where is this magical shoe kingdom? It is in the heart of Vancouver's historic China town on Georgia Street just east of Main Street on the south side of the street. Here's a photo of the unlikely store front.
Doesn't this just SCREAM sparkly ballroom shoes? Nestled amongst fish markets, egg markets (it's a thing), fruit stands, and herbal markets, the awning says 33 Market even though this is NOT actually the address. Chuckle. I love quirky Chinatown. The address is 288 East Georgia Street. (It's just a few doors to the east of the Pnomh Penh restaurant which is another not to miss stop for any foodies among you. It's Bourdain's favourite Asian restaurant in Vancouver and serves Cambodian/Vietnamese food that is UNBELIEVABLE.)
Ok, so what's different about ballroom shoes from say traditional street shoes or even character shoes... firstly they are much more flexible to allow for pointing of feet, and the suede bottom is an ideal dance sole in terms of grip versus slide... but ONLY if you maintain them properly, which is actually ridiculously quick and simple.
Before you wear your suede bottom shoes for the first time the sole will look more or less like this. Sort of fuzzy for lack of a better term. This is referred to as the 'nap' of the suede, and it's this textured surface that is fantastic for dancing on smooth, hard-surface floors. It also allows you to FEEL the floor under your feet which is important for people who are more accomplished or technical dancers.
Now, if you don't care properly for these suede soles, they will very quickly become polished and shiny which matters because this makes them SLIPPERY and not at all good for dancing. Just remember it's the nap of the suede that is most important. While the shoe in the first pic looks new, they actually aren't, it's just that I have maintained the nap of the suede. To illustrate this is the exact same suede shoe BEFORE I properly cleaned them after an hour of rehearsing:
Do you see the difference? They are already starting to get shiny and crusted with glitter and what have you. So how do you clean suede soles? NOT with water!
All you need is one of these weird little brushes:
This is a suede brush and I bought it at the same store as the shoes for something like $5. First, use the black bristles to brush off accumulated glitter, then use the brass bristles to brush off any of the more stubborn stickies, then (the most important step!) use the funny rubber wavy side in small circular motions. This brings up the nap again et VOILA! Like new. The whole thing takes like 30 seconds per shoe.
If you do NOT want to invest the 30 seconds it takes to do this, fair enough, but then you have to be prepared to take them to a cobbler to put a topy or cats paw rubber sole on the bottom, which will end up costing you as much as the shoes in the first place, plus you will lose that beautiful flexibility and floor feel.
So there ya go! Happy shopping and try to stop in at Pnomh Penh for butter beef and spring rolls on your trip to Chinatown.