I often get asked about what to wear on the feet for dancing. My usual recommendation is to wear a smooth-soled shoe you can spin and turn in, and one that stays on the foot without you having to scrunch up the toes to hold on to them, or so loose they fly off the feet – yes, I have had students turn up to class in Flip Flops!
Today my Swing Notes is about one make of shoes that in my experience are great for Swing dancing - BLEYER. For full disclosure, I run the Lindy Hop Shop and have done for many years, where I sell shoes for dancers and BLEYER is the main make I sell. However the reason I write about them now is the same reason I sell them: I like them for dancing! There are of course lots of good shoe manufacturers out there, but I choose to write about this brand because I know more about them. Just like regular shoes, one make can fit your shape where another make in supposedly the same size is just all wrong – it’s a highly individual and competitive market, but usually with trial and error you find a company whose Lasts work for you. So my advice is to try them on - as they say if the shoe fits – wear it!
BLEYER Swing-Shoes have gained a worldwide reputation as popular shoes for Lindy Hop & Boogie Woogie practise. Way back when, when I did the circuit as an international travelling teacher, I got invited to teach in Germany, where I first came across the BLEYER shoe. They weren’t sold in the UK at the time, and I liked what I saw. At the time, back in the 90s, a lot of the UK Lindy Hoppers & Jivers I knew came from a modern Jive background. In that circuit is was very common to wear Jazz shoes, a very thin-soled, plain black shoe made for modern jazz and contemporary dancers. Only for Lindy Hop, it didn’t really support your foot for all the bouncing & hopping we like to do. So, when I saw a shoe that had a thick, cushioned sole like a trainer, only with a smooth sole you could spin & turn in, plus the option of a two-tone vintage inspired look, I knew this would be popular. I bought a pair and then got so many requests from my students as to where they could buy them that when I went back to Germany I brought back a few pairs with me. One thing led to another, and soon I started selling shoes as a side line – and have continued to do so since the 1990s.
Recently, I contacted BLEYER to find out a little bit more about the company, and how these swing shoes came about. I thought you might be interested to hear how they developed. What I didn’t know was that when BLEYER started his Swing-Shoe line it was way back in the middle of the ’60s, and they had already been making specialist shoes for Gymnastics, Ballet & Jazz since 1954.
What makes their shoes so popular with dancers, and as far as I’m aware is quite unique, is the use of a special PU (Polyurethane) sole. This modern synthetic rubber was used to fashion the sole, then combined with a leather upper. They subsequently shaped the designs with the input of well-known international Swing-dancers – a recipe for success! With a new last created for the Swing-shoe & a whole range of uppers in various styles the shoes quickly became very popular.
The company understand dancers, and have used their vast experience and knowledge of what the dancers wanted to turn this revolutionary new material into a unique sole (which they call their WONDER-SOLE) that is supple enough to allow the dancer to feel the floor, whilst giving cushioning and support to the feet and joints, and allows the dancer to step, turn and spin as required in swing dancing. This special polyurethane-sole is also hard wearing and, as I know from my own personal experience, lasts for ages* (*not recommended for heavy street use mind).
BLEYER also does dance soles made of light-weight rubber called EVA. The EVA sole is mostly used for shoes with a low heel and welted soles – which is great for the design but, in my opinion, not as good as the PU for spins. Once again, it’s about finding a balance between cushioning and flexibility and being able to spin & turn.
They also now do an EVA-sole finished with suede leather. Suede is great for spins turns & sliding across the floor. Only a suede sole does require more maintenance than the other soles and needs to be cleaned with a wire brush from time to time. Personally, I always think of suede as more suited to smoother dances such as Foxtrot & Tango.
I tend to use a rubber sole for rehearsing in, very fast/slick floors and for performance where I need to be more secure on the floor. Frankie told me he often wore plimsolls (old-fashioned trainers) for performances and when you dance at speed you know why. However I still love the more traditional all leather sole for social dancing where I tend to wear my Werner Kerns.
BLEYER have recently introduced a leather soled shoe for the ladies which we love, with a low heel: the Mary BL4409.
It is ideal for Balboa or Charleston which really need a more solid sole for sliding and shuffling across the floor than the PU or EVA allow. Let’s hope they start to introduce more leather soled shoes in their range too.
So why buy a dance shoe? A dance shoe, as opposed to most street shoes are designed to be supple enough for going up on your toes without cracking the leather whilst designed to support your foot in all the right places. They should be the perfect balance between comfort, support and suppleness, giving you the ability to step, spin & slide yet support the foot (and your joints) in all the right places.
A last tip if you want to buy dance shoes such as BLEYER’s: as they use a softer leather for suppleness, it means they can stretch a little more than street shoes, so it’s best to buy them on the tighter side. But of course, like tyres on a racing car you never know if it’s going to rain or shine, or whether the floor is going to be sticky or slick, so I often carry two pairs of shoes with me: one leather-soled for sticky or rubber laminate floors, and one synthetic-soled for those super shiny, polished wood floors. Many years ago, I entered a dance competition at the Hammersmith Palais and the week before my partner & I went down to check out the floor, it was a little sticky but not too bad. The following week when we turned up for the competition, wow we got the shock of our lives, they must have polished the floor with a special wax it was fast!! Now I always carry two pairs – it’s called belt & braces!
*Note: this article was published as one of Simon’s Swing Notes, a free weekly newsletter about the Swing world and Simon’s personal take on it!
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