The theme over the last few weeks has been tap shoes and today I’m talking high heel tap shoes. I’ll be discussing how high heel tap shoes are different, what inspired me to want to wear high heel tap shoes and I’ll give you recommendations on what to look for in a high heel tap shoe and give you feedback on different brands of high heel tap shoes I’ve worn.
For many years, I only wore high heel tap shoes. I was really inspired as a teenager, by what felt to me, like a movement of strong, female tap dancers dancing in heels. Women like Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Ayodele Casel and Lisa LaTouche.
Women tap dancing in high heel tap shoes wasn’t a new thing (ie: chorus girls, hollywood films),but that chorus girl footwork wasn’t as technically advanced as the footwork of today. In the Hollywood films featuring Eleanor Powell or Ginger Rogers, they weren’t wearing tap shoes most of the time and their tap sounds were overdubbed. But Dormeshia, Ayodele, Lisa and many other women, Michelle Dorrance and Chloe Arnold for example, they were dancing in heels, doing live performances, like it was nothing. Their footwork wasn’t simplified. Nothing changed because they wore heels. They were on fire, they were killing it. Dormeshia actually did a series of performances wearing one high heel tap shoe, and one flat tap shoe. What?! And crushed it you guys. I was so inspired by this, and my personality is very all or nothing. I don’t know how to do anything halfway, only 200%, all the way, all the time. So I stopped wearing flats and only danced in heels for a number of years.
There’s an article that Dance Spirit Magazine wrote back in 2010 featuring a bunch of female tap dancers with experience dancing in heels. They were interviewing us on what our favorite high heel tap shoes were, asking us for any advice we had for anyone looking to wear a high heel tap shoes. The article is called Heels vs. Flats.
Let’s Talk Technique
Heels are different because your weight placement is forward on the balls of your feet, so certain steps feel different and need a little bit of adjustment.
- Pullbacks: you need a higher releve when executing a pullback in heels
- Paradiddles: you need to move smaller because the distance from your toe tap to your heel tap is shortened
Why Wear Heels?
Why do people choose to wear heels? Heels give you a longer leg line.
Most common heel heights are 2.25’’ or 2.5’’ or 3’’. I personally feel that you can achieve the same leg-line as 2.25’’ as you can with 3’’ and that 3’’ is an unnecessary push out of my comfort zone. When I dance in heels, I generally choose a 2.25’’ heel.
Switching Between Heels and Flats
I’ve stopped wearing heels for the most part, because I have no sense of moderation and I got my heels-wearing time out of my system and I’m back to flats these dates unless the gig calls for it. When I was dancing weekly at the Cotton Club as a part of Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards’ Cotton Club’s Sophisticated Ladies, I was wearing heels every week. I’m comfortable in both heels and flats and if I need to do a gig in heels, I can switch no problem.
You have to be careful switching from heels to flats in the same show. It can play tricks on your achilles and lead to potential injury.
What to Look For in a High Heel Tap Shoe
- A strong heel that won’t break if you put your body weight on it
- A shoe that is secure. Strappy, open and peep toe may look cute, but you need to be secure, in your shoe at all time. Slipping and sliding in a high heel tap shoe can lead to you rolling your ankle.
Side note, if you haven’t already yet, check out Episodes 018 where I talk about tap dance injuries I’ve had and how I’ve learned to prevent them, and Episode 019 and Episode 020 where I interview Dr. Daria Oller, a physical therapist who is also a tap dancer. She gives great tips and tricks on how to prevent injury and what to do if you are injured.
- If you have an elastic strap of some sort, most buckle-style strap shoes, including t-straps have the buckle sewn on by elastic, I recommend that you take it to a cobbler and get a new, stronger elastic. While dancing in heels, you’re putting so much resistance against that strap that it’s working overtime to keep you in your foot. Reinforce it and use a stronger one.
- Get a bridge: a small, triangular piece of metal that attaches to both your heel and the sole of your shoe that goes right in the 45 degree angle where the heel and sole of the shoe meet. This will help to reinforce the heel, and take some of the stress off of the heel when you put your weight on it, for example in a reverse cramp roll, or what some people call an inverted cramp roll, dig dig toe toe.
The only other thing that comes to mind is that if you choose to dance in heels, make sure you stretch. You should always stretch, but you need to give your achilles, hamstring and IT Band a little extra love if you’re dancing in heels.
Heels I’ve Worn
These are all gorgeous character shoes, but that’s what they really are. They’re really character shoes first that if requested, they will add taps to. In my opinion, that’s not a tap shoe.
Roxane Butterfly’s Shoes by Casimiro
This show has a unique design with a Cuban heel, and mesh around the ankle bone. It felt feminine, but also comfortable. Nothing about the design was limiting and the sound was great!
Shoe Tip: Do you know that you can take your shoes to the cobbler to be stretched if they feel too tight?
Miller & Bens T-Step and Broadway Divas
With the T-Step, I had to replace the elastic on the strap for each pair several times at the cobbler.
I dig the Broadway Divas because they are sturdy and firm. They are 2 ¼ inch heel and I dig the sound!
If you haven’t yet, check out Episodes 023 and Episode 024 where I was joined by special guest Matt from Dancing Fair in Minnesota, the go-to-guy for all things tap shoes where we talked about all the ways you can customize your tap shoes, from steel shanks, to different types of leathers, we also talked about how long it takes to build a handmade tap shoe from
scratch and more. I really enjoyed this interview and have received a lot of great feedback on it, so check it out when you can. You can also check out Episode 022 where I discuss what shoes you should recommend for your students, and last
week’s Episode 025, where I did a tap shoe review of all the professional flat tap shoes I’ve worn, including k360s, the Jason Samuels Smith shoe by bloch and many more.