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Jo's Tap

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes!!

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Tap Shoes

There has always been, and will always continue to be, a major discussion on tap shoes. There is no one definite answer to the question "Which tap shoe is the best?" as everybody has different requirements from their shoes. The question should therefore be "Which tap shoe is best for ME?"

 

With so many types of shoe now available it can be a very daunting task for a beginner (and sometimes an experienced!) tapper to choose a shoe. When looking at a catalogue you will see two-tie, oxford, character, Cuban heel, jazz tap, spectator, sneaker, canvas, PU, leather and low heel, the various brands of Capezio, Bloch, Katz, Roch Valley, Freed, Leo's and own brands, and also the taps including Teletone, Katz, Teletone II, Leos, jingle, AJK and staccato. So where do you start?!

 

Budget

 

The first thing you need to decide is your budget. Whilst it is important to get a pair of good quality shoes, do you really want to spend 70 if you're only dancing half an hour a week during term time? You can get a pair of 'own brand' shoes in the UK for about 10 (low heel, two-tie canvas with a riveted toe tap) if this is all your budget allows. However, they may not last very long, may not be very comfortable and will almost certainly produce a very dull sound.

 

I would always recommend a leather shoe. It will last longer than PU (or PVC) or canvas therefore saving you money in the long run. Cheaper shoes are often bought for children as their feet are growing and it would be very costly to buy new leather shoes every term. However, PU shoes are very inflexible making dancing very difficult. Canvas shoes are slightly better (I have sat watching TV whilst 'bending' my son's canvas shoes), but a leather shoe has a bit of give. Also these cheaper shoes often have a hollow, plastic heel making tap attachment very difficult.

 

Style

 

Once you've decided how much you are prepared to spend you need to choose a style. This then poses the question 'Heels or Flats?' Again there is no simple answer to this. If you never, ever wear flat shoes you are probably best getting a Cuban heel. However, if you normally kick your shoes off to have a boogie then you may be better in flats. The only way to really tell is to try both. There is an argument that Cuban heels are better for Broadway or English tap (as it is very much about being on the balls of the feet) and that flats are better for rhythm tap. Heels look good on stage especially with certain costumes, whereas flat shoes can look a bit strange! It really does depend on personal preference, and the type of dancing you will be doing.

 

The shoe

 

Most beginners tend to go for a simple two-tie. The style is like a child's shoe in that the toes are covered, then the shoe fastens over the highest part of the foot. A leather low heel two-tie with resin sole will cost from about 13. Whilst I have heard many people say they are very comfortable, I have also heard that they can pinch the exposed bit of the foot, especially as your feet get hot and swell. Personally, I have not worn these since I was about 12 so can't remember what they're like.

 

Another popular choice (especially in the UK) is the Cuban heel oxford. An oxford is a full lace up shoe leaving no part of the foot exposed. These cost as little as 14 for an own brand leather upper with resin sole, 20 for own brand leather upper and sole and 25 - 40 for an all leather well known make. They usually come without taps so you would need to add another 20 for taps and fitting (assuming Teletone taps, but we'll come to that later).

 

Jazz taps have been available in America for ages but have only appeared in the UK in the last few years. There always seemed to be a feeling that these were men's shoes, and for a while female dancers wanting an oxford style flat shoe had to buy men's. (Some people still do but at least we have a choice now!) Jazz taps are available in very soft leather, split sole, reinforced toe box, with or without a shank (adds stiffness to the length) and with or without a rubber pad (to prevent slipping). Again it is personal preference and style of dancing that will determine which you get (i.e. if you plan to do toe stands you will definitely need a reinforced toe box). Jazz taps will cost 30 - 70 and almost always have the toe and heel taps already fitted.

 

Taps

 

Taps are made out of an aluminium alloy. They are attached to the shoe using crosshead screws. Some shoes come with a riveted tap on the toe. My suggestion would be to get rid of these! They usually produce a very dull sound and very rarely fit the shoe properly. A tap should fit the contours of a shoe perfectly. If you have to buy a toe tap that is too small you need to decide if you want it fitted to the outside edge so you can do wings and scrapes, or the inside edge for clips etc. You can buy a tap that is too big and get a good cobbler to grind it down but you must ensure it has a very smooth finish.

 

Capezio Teletone taps are the most popular make. They come with a fibreboard backing plate which is tacked to the shoe and the tap fitted over the top. Some people think that this backing plate is useless, and also takes up space so the screws have less sole to attach to. I have never tried taps without the backing plate so I can't comment on if it makes a difference. The idea of Teletone taps is that the screws can be loosened to adjust the sound the taps make. While this is true to a certain degree, loosening the screws can cause the holes to widen, the screws will fall out and eventually have nothing left to attach to. Also a loose screw that becomes proud of the actual tap can damage a floor.

 

Capezio also make the Teletone II tap which just has one screw in the centre. Other taps available are Katz, Leo's and Bloch. There is also a heel tap called a horseshoe but I prefer taps than cover the whole of the heel. As taps can be bought separately from shoes, many people use an ordinary, comfortable pair of shoes and attach taps to those. You can fit taps yourself but if you are unsure take them to a cobbler who has been recommended or who has experience of fitting taps.

 

So....

 

So you've read all the blurb but still don't know what to buy. Talk to people in your tap class and read some of the tap discussion boards. Go to a dance shop and try on every single shoe they have. If you are able, it may be worth asking somebody at your dance class if you can try their shoes. For every person who says, "This is an excellent shoe" there will be another who says, "I didnt like it at all". The only exception to that may be the Capezio K360. The majority of people who have tried this shoe seem to love it although apparently, the original shoes are better than the ones made in Brazil. I have not yet found a retailer of these particular shoes in Britain but I'm still looking - they are widely available in the USA. Other popular shoes include Bloch jazz tap, JustTap (custom-made in USA), Leo's Giordano, Katz Jazz Tap or Cuban heel oxford, Freed Jazz Tap and Capezio CG09.

 

My Personal Tap Shoe Experience

 

I am in no way an expert on tap shoes but I have tried and heard several and can give you my own opinion. I started in a basic two-tie, but as I said earlier I can't remember what they were like and probably didnt have enough knowledge of tap to give a sensible opinion. I changed to Cuban heel oxfords when I was about 12 and I loved them. I don't remember which make they were but do know that they had Teletone taps. I carried on using heels until I stopped dancing at 17 years old.

 

When I started dancing again (age 24) I bought a new pair of shoes. They were all leather Katz oxfords with a Cuban heel. I bought Katz taps to go on these shoes as they fitted better than Teletone taps. Katz taps are very similar to Teletone but seem to wear down quicker. These shoes were lovely but after several years were looking tatty and the taps had worn so I decided to treat myself to a new pair. I bought a pair of Roch Valley Cuban heel oxfords and had Teletone taps fitted. These shoes were a very soft leather and appeared to be very comfy until I started to dance. After an hours class my feet really hurt. The sole under the instep was very narrow and although I don't have particularly wide feet, my foot seemed to hang over the edge of the shoe. I persevered for a while to see if I got used to them, but in the end I took the Teletone taps off the new shoes and put them on the old Katz shoes, but I still had the problem of tatty shoes.

 

I spent about 6 months trying to make a decision. I read all I could on the internet about people's opinions of shoes and decided I fancied the Capezio CG09. These are a jazz tap shoe with a firm toe box and shank and have the Teletone II taps on. I found them for a good price and went for it! Within 5 minutes of my first class wearing them I was thinking, "Oh my goodness, these are horrible". When you change from heels to flats you have to alter the way you dance slightly - the main thing being you have to bend your knees A LOT more. The shoes themselves were generally a lot firmer than I was used to and my feet would really ache after a class. I attended the ATD festival when I'd had my shoes about 2 months, and could barely walk after 12 hours dancing in 2 days. However, as with most shoes, they eventually became an extension of my feet rather than just things attached to my feet, and now I absolutely love them. I have heard that the biggest complaint of these shoes is their durability. After 3 1/2 years of 4-5 hours tapping per week, I had to buy a new pair, which I didn't find unreasonable. Some people don't like the Teletone II tap, but mine have been great and the screws have never fallen out.

I have also tried the Capezio CG51 tap boot. This is a slip on shoe with an elastic gusset on each side, a split sole and Teletone taps. It is an incredibly comfortable shoe, a very snug fit and does not slip at all. However, I find that when I am doing so-called English tap, the outside edges of my feet ache  - this doesn't happen when I'm doing rhythm tap. I have a pair of Capezio CG355 which are very comfy (someone else has the CG354 which apparently is also very nice).

 

Many people in my adult class have bought the Freed jazz tap. This is a very soft leather shoe and so far everyone seems happy. A few people have got an own brand mens tap shoe which appears to be similar to the Capezio 355, however 2 pairs of these have started to fall apart after a year. One lady has stood next to me for years when we do our warm-up, and the first day she had these shoes on was the first time I could hear her! She also found she could do a pick-up on one foot better with the new shoes and could also do it on her left foot! I was convinced that my single wings would always be perfect when I got my first pair of flats but sadly they weren't!

 

I was tempted by the new tap sneakers as they looked so comfortable but two things put me off. Whilst they would look great with wide or boot leg trousers, they would look fairly awful on stage with a big floaty dress! The other thing that made me change my mind was when I heard them. They appeared to make a very dull, muffled sound  - and that was on a sprung wood floor. However, I have now succumbed and bought the Fierce tapsneaker by Capezio. They really are extremely comfy, and produce a surprisingly light sound - quite different from my usual CG09 shoes. Sadly Capezio have discontinued both the CG09 and the Fierce which is a shame as they are among my favourites!

I had such good reports from people with Leo's Giordano shoes and Bloch SO301 that I invested in a pair each of these too. However, the Leo's are a very, very soft leather with no reinforcement around the toe, and the Bloch will not be suitable for you if you have a narrow heel as they have a tendency to slip. The latest shoe that everyone seems to be buying is the Bloch Tap Flex split sole. They are like putting your feet into a pair a very comfy slippers (sadly I don't seem to be able to wear a split sole apart from the Fierce sneaker). The same style shoe with Kashmir lining is also available is a full sole called the Bloch Audeo (which I have and love), which is a very, very comfortable shoe and they make a great sound too!!

 

Where to buy

 

Most good dance shops should sell a wide range of styles and makes. There are some internet dance stores where shoes cost much less than the shops, but unless you know exactly what you want, there is the disadvantage of not being able to try them on.

Your dance teacher should be able to get shoes at a cheaper price from some of the companies that sell only to teachers and Dance Schools.

In the UK these are:

Starlite 01529 306346

International Dance Supplies 01626 888080

Dance Depot 01952 676002

Express Dance Supply 01733 565563

Dance Gear 0121 420 1999

Dance Force 08000 289280.

 

I've listed below some of the online stores that have competitive prices. Some of the US sites will ship to the UK and even with about $15 shipping added the shoes can still work out cheaper than UK prices! However, beware of being stung by import duty.

 

UK Sites

thedancersshop.co.uk

dancedirectworld.com

stagedoor.20m.com

dancinginthestreet.com

studiodancewear.co.uk

 

US sites

dancesupply.com

discountdance.com

dancewearcorner.com

dancewear.com

allaboutdance.com

all4dance.com

dancegear.com

dancediscount.com

justtap.com

dancesuppliesusa.com

dance-outlet.com

toetapntights.com