How to Choose the Right Shoes for Tap Dance Classes?

By Lesley Mealor / Co-Written & Edited by Samantha BelleroseB.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

Tap dance, even more so than other dance styles, requires a specific shoe made especially to execute the intricate steps and sounds dancers perform. Tap shoes range in style and construction, and the style you choose will depend on your dancer’s skill and age.

In order to choose the proper tap shoes for dance class you need to check for a snug fit just like school or dress shoes, with little to no extra room for growth. A tap shoe can be lace up or buckled and should be a well-constructed shoe with attached tap plates or have the ability to attach plates.

Tap dance is a favorite style of many dancers, young and old, in part because of the fun that’s had simply by making noise! If you are searching for your child’s first pair of tap shoes or looking for a new style for your older dancer, read on to find out about the best products on the market and tips on how to find the perfect tap shoes!

Tap shoes come in several styles:

  • Mary Jane
  • Full Sole Flat Oxford
  • Split Sole Flat Oxford
  • Character Heel

Are Lace Up Tap Shoes better than Buckled?

Yes and No, lace up shoes are generally preferred by professional dancers because they fit snuggly to the foot and can be tightened and loosened by the dancer to suit their preference and foot width. They do not have a high heel and professionals are able to customize the heel to produce the best sound for them.

Buckled Mary Jane or character style tap shoes worn mainly by females can also be customized, give an elongated look to the leg whilst dancing, and keep the dancer on the ball of their foot if high heeled. So at the end of the day, it comes down to preference for females and for males, they generally wear the lace-up anyway!

What Is the Mary Jane (or Merry Jane) Style Tap Shoe?

Made of patent leather, leather, or synthetic materials, often in black, white, or tan, Mary Jane tap shoes will have either an elastic strap across the foot with a ribbon to be tied, or a buckle strap. Mary Jane tap shoes only come in a full-sole option. Mary Jane tap shoes, like these from Bloch, are an excellent choice for a first-time young tapper!

Are Mary Jane or Merry Jane Style Tap Shoes Good For Beginners?

Yes, Mary Jane style tap shoes are great shoes for beginners! Mary Jane shoes are often what young, female dancers will use as their first tap shoes. This style of shoe is very traditional for young girls and can be seen in dance on film all the way back to the Shirley Temple days! 

What is a Full Sole Flat Oxford Tap Shoe?

An Oxford style flat tap shoe comes in either leather, vegan leather, or synthetic materials, and laces up like a typical Oxford dress shoe. There is a small block heel measuring about 3cm high. This style of shoe has a full, hard sole that is broken-in over time and consistent use. 

Are Full Sole Flat Oxford Tap Shoes Good For Beginners?

Yes, full sole flat oxford tap shoes are a good option for beginner dancers. Many beginner dancers will start with this style of shoe to achieve a uniform look if the class has boys and girls. A style like The Cadence by Capezio is a great choice for a beginner dancer wanting less of a feminine style shoe, but with a sturdy construction.

What Is A Split-Sole Tap Shoe?

Split-sole tap shoes are essentially jazz shoes with taps attached. Traditionally, tap shoes have been constructed with full, hard soles to ensure the correct foot and ankle support for dancers. In recent years, companies have come out with split-sole versions to appeal to the “fast food” mentality of learning and executing difficult tap skills. 

Split-sole tap shoes allow for more flexibility in the shoe, which can often lead to some tap skills being easier to accomplish quicker than having to fully break in a hard sole shoe. However, the benefits of using split-sole tap shoes end there, especially for beginners! 

Why Is It Important to Wear a Full Sole Tap Shoe?

Full sole tap shoes provide the support that dancers of all ages and levels need to tap dance to their best ability. Tap dance requires the muscles in the feet, ankles, and legs to work incredibly hard, from the tiniest muscles in the arch to the glutes in the legs. 

A full sole tap shoe forces the dancer to use their muscles correctly to execute steps properly and to break in the shoes well. To help break in a full sole tap shoe, have your dancer wear the shoes around the house (but not in the garage on concrete!)

Growing dancers who are learning proper tap technique need the support of a full sole shoe to prevent ankle injury in steps like toe stands and wings, to prevent toe curling from becoming a habit, and quite frankly, to prevent a split sole tap shoe from flying right off their foot in a shuffle! 

There is a long standing debate in the dance education world about the benefits and detriments of split sole tap shoes, but in my experience, a full sole tap shoe is the best choice for all ages and levels of dancer to prevent injury and poor technique habits from developing. 

What is a Character Tap Shoe?

A character tap shoe refers to the style of dance heel worn primarily by female dancers. Character tap shoes look like a Mary Jane style shoe, with a buckle strap across the foot, and come in a variety of heel heights ranging from 1.5” to 3”. 

This style of shoe comes in either leather or synthetic leather, and can be found both with attached taps or without taps, meaning you would purchase taps separately and have them attached by a cobbler. Character heels are used often in traditional or classic tap styles (think “Singin’ In the Rain”), and dancers usually start wearing them around 10-12 years old. 

There are two main differences between a character tap shoe and a Mary Jane heeled tap shoe. The first is a character heel is usually higher or taller than a Mary Jane style tap shoe. The second is that the heel tapers in being thinner at the tip or end that hits the floor and wider at the the top or the part that is attached to the shoe. Mary Jane tap shoe heels are generally the same width from the top to bottom like Oxford style tap shoes.

Should I buy slip on tap shoes?

No, you should not buy slip-on tap shoes as they are generally split-soled like jazz shoes and we have already warned you earlier about the dangers of wearing split soled tap shoes in this article. If you do find a full soled slip-on tap shoe, you need to make sure they fit properly and are not too loose which is why lace ups are better. Slip ons can seem like a good idea if you have quick changes for a recital or performance between different shoes, but you can always replace shoelaces with thin elastics in the holes of lace-ups to make them easy to slip on and off for this purpose and then have the ability to put laces back in them for classes!

How To Choose Tap Shoes For an Advanced Dancer

Advanced tap dancers have many choices on the market, from ready-to-buy professional level Oxfords to custom-made shoes. Once a tap dancer is to the point of seeking out a high level shoe, the requirements vary from dancer to dancer. Think of advanced-level tap shoes as instruments, and their musicians have unique preferences for how those instruments perform.

What Tap Shoes do Professionals wear?

Professional tap shoes will most often be full soled, leather shoes with a stacked heel for the most resonant sound. Heel heights on high level shoes vary, but the larger the heel, the more impactful the sound. 

Additionally, professional shoes often include a “build up” on the sole and heel, which refers to multiple layers of leather that make a heavier shoe, thus creating a richer sound when the taps strike the floor. 

Shoes like the Jason Samuels Smith tap shoes are a fantastic ready-to-wear option with a double build up. Custom tap shoes like the K360 from Capezio will allow you to choose the size of the build up – single, double or triple, as well as the design of the shoe for an unique look.

Advanced level tap shoes come with attached taps, or can be ordered without the taps attached so the dancer can have their own taps attached by a cobbler or shoe repairer/maker. The reason for wanting to purchase shoes without attached taps is sound – depending on how tightly or loosely taps are screwed into the shoe, the quality of the sound is affected, and professional level tap dancers care deeply about the resonance of their taps!

How much do tap shoes cost?

Tap shoes range in price from $30 USD for beginner level children’s shoes to over $300 USD on the professional level. Expect to pay something in between for intermediate-level shoes.

Should You Wear Socks with Tap Shoes?

Yes, you should wear socks or a thin stocking with your taps shoes for several reasons:

  • socks wick away or up your sweat
  • tap shoes will smell less because of the above point!
  • can reduce blisters by decreasing friction between the foot and shoe
  • socks will help to wear in new shoes (this also means if you wear them without socks they may be loose.)

Should I Loosen the Tap Plates on Tap Shoes?

I would not loosen the tap plates on tap shoes unless you are an experienced tap dancer with customized tap plates and shoes who is doing so to adjust the sound they are making.

Some dancers like to loosen their tap shoes so they create a resonating sound. Think of when you hold the musical instrument the triangle. The metal triangle comes with a string and when you hit the triangle while holding the string it makes a wonderful resonating ting. But if you hold the triangle in your hand it makes a dulled ting that does not travel very far. Therefore the theory is that if you loosen the tap plates they are suspended just like that triangle on the string and the sound is less muffled.

BUT Loosening tap plates on tap shoes is also the best way to ensure they fall off! Each time you loosen or tighten your tap screws they will be eating away at the holes in which they are placed and eventually the holes will be so big that the screw falls out. There are ways to fix the hole, but generally, that means using glue and matchsticks and from experience, this is not a permanent fix. There is also the problem that the screws are not longer flush with your tap plate meaning they stick above the tap plate and this is the best way to dig up any floor and rip out your tap screw!

Now you are ready to go and buy your tap shoes!

Choosing tap shoes can be a challenge, but armed with this advice, you should feel confident in your ability to pick the right pair for your dancer. Happy tapping!

If you are wanting more information about tap dance or buying shoes for dance? Check out some of the articles below on the Dance Parent 101 Website!

About the Author

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha is a wife and mother of four kids aged 3-11. She danced and acted from the age of 5 and performed in film clips, on television, and in musical theatre professionally. She also taught dance, but after leaving the profession to backpack through Europe, Canada and the USA with her husband for three years, she then completed an Education Degree and taught within primary schools in Australia. Today she is a business owner with her husband and the creator and writer for Dance Parent 101 where she hopes her previous experience as a dancer, current experience as a dance parent and the research and writing skills she gained completing her education degree will help enlighten parents on their journey with their child through the world of dance.