Shoes are the most important accessory to any fitness class. You may think any old tennis shoe will work for dance fitness but you'd be wrong. Let me tell you why having the appropriate shoes for class is the best thing you can do for your workout and subsequently, your body.
When I went to my first dance fitness class I wore my super cheap tennis shoes I typically wore for walking, chores, and outside activities. Being my first dance fitness class, I wasn't so much focused on my shoes as I was with just trying to keep up. But after a few classes I started to realize I needed some better ones. After all, I'd had these ASICS for over three years. I decided to go all out and get some really nice (and expensive) Nike running shoes. I loved those shoes. They fit snug, super comfortable, and had some legit arch support.
Fast forward 6 months later and I'm now a dance fitness instructor teaching 3-5 classes a week; rocking my dope, bright purple Nikes. Though, every. single. class I taught I felt so incredibly sore after. The obvious thought is damn, that was a good workout! But something wasn't right. It would hurt to walk for days and my knees ached uncontrollably. I'm not talking the good kind of sore when your muscles feel stretched and energized. I'm talking grinding, cracking, and aching sore. I would literally wobble from my car to my front door. This concerned me enough I finally went to the doctor. Bless his heart, he informed me I'm simply overweight, new to working out, and am exercising so frequently that my knees were just over-stressed and to maybe take it easy on the classes. Well thanks but, no thanks.
I pressed on determined to condition my knees but the pain just never went away. One day at home while I was practicing routines I noticed my knees didn't hurt, like at all. 'How is this possible!?' I thought. The only difference was that I wasn't wearing shoes; I was practicing with socks in my living room on the carpet. A light bulb went off and I started scouring the internet doing research. Could it be? Were my shoes the issue the entire time? Yes.
In conducting my research I came across two major issues with my shoes. First was the arch support. While arch support is great for running and walking, it is not great for dance fitness. Why? Having arch support in a shoe typically means that part of your insole is firm to keep the shape of your arch. Dance fitness uses a lot of jumping, bouncing, and marching moves. Meaning, when you come down hard and flat on your arch, it needs room to flex. With this type of shoe and the repetitive moves used in dance fitness, it really means jamming your arch into a hard surface point over and over for 60 mins. As I'm sure you've concluded, this can cause a lot of pain.
Any pain in the arch of your foot can run all the way up your body to your spine, causing lower back pain. Pain in your lower back affects the lower extremity nerve system that runs down to your knees which, you guessed it, causes knee pain. That's a whole lot of pain for some arch support. Who knew.
The second issue with my shoes was the grip of the sole. Walking and running shoes typically have a more aggressive grip on the sole used to help on difficult terrain. Dance fitness is usually done on a wood, tile, or concrete floor; no rough terrain here! Why does this matter? Dance fitness typically uses spins, leg twists, and slides, and if you have traditional walking or running shoes, your feet are gripping the floor preventing you from moving fluidly. Just think if you're trying to twist your leg outward and your foot grips to the floor, what you've now done is remain stationary and thrown your knee out of place which causes intense pain, I promise you. Dance fitness requires shoes with a somewhat flat, smooth sole and preferably a pivot point for twisting.
A couple other things to note when picking out shoes: although memory foam and super squishy insoles sound nice in theory, they really aren't ideal. You'll want to be able to utilize your toes and feel the ground underneath you, just like a skateboarder would need to feel their deck. Using your toes, instead of the soles, to grip the ground will help with balance. Which is simply impossible to do when your insole feels like a thick, fluffy cloud. But be careful, you also don't want a super light and flimsy shoe. This will end up stressing your bones and arches over time. An important point but not necessarily crucial is having lightweight and breathable material like mesh. I don't know about you but I get sweaty as hell while working out and the more airflow I can get anywhere, the better.
In short: my most vague and basic recommendation for a dance fitness shoe is a cross trainer with minimal grip and a pivot point.
My personal favorite is the RYKA Women's Influence Cross Training Shoe. I've personally owned this shoe three separate times. They are extremely durable. They've each lasted me a year using them 3-5 times per week. And honestly I could have gone longer but I like buying new things. They are just the right amount of support and feeling. They come with toe grips and are designed for you to feel the ground beneath you. As well as a pivot point for twists. They also come with lightweight mesh lining. Depending on the color you choose, you can get these between $45-85. It seems pricey but is well worth the money. These shoes changed my workouts.
I'm a huge fan of RYKA. Most, if not all of their cross training shoes are perfect for dance fitness. If you have weak ankles and are looking for a little more support in that area, I suggest the RYKA Women's Tenacity Cross Trainer. With all the floor work (burpees, mountain climbers, etc.) we've been doing lately, these are going to be my next purchase.
If you're just starting out and not fully committed enough for the price but still want a good shoe, I suggest scouring the internet for deals on RYKA's. You can find great deals if you're willing to sacrifice color and design. I once found a bright neon yellow pair for $29. Or you could try another brand like, Barerun Walking Shoes or Alexandria Collection High Top Hip Hop Dance Sneakers. But I really do recommend spending the money and getting a good pair of RYKA's. It truly is a good investment since a shoe can really make or break your workout and the wrong choice in shoe could end up causing you pain.
Next time in class focus on your areas of excessive soreness. Ask yourself if this is from a great workout or your body overworking itself to compensate for your choice in footwear.
Have you found a cheap pair of dance fitness shoes you love? Post them with a link in the comments below for the community!