Ultimate Guide – what shoes should you wear for contemporary or lyrical dance?

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

Contemporary and lyrical are two dance styles that, like some jazz techniques, can be done barefoot. However, there are several options of shoes for these styles of dance that have become popular over the last 20 years which have their own unique functions. 

If not dancing barefoot, the type of shoe you should wear for contemporary or lyrical dance can be selected from three main styles – the paw style, the half sole style, or the sock style.

All three styles of footwear are minimalist in nature, and meant to achieve that “barely there” look from stage, blending in with the leg line. Check with your studio for their requirements for footwear in case you need to purchase something specific.

Nearly all dancewear brands make a version of these items, and it can be overwhelming if you have never heard of these kinds of shoes before. Read on to find out the details of about each style as well as which ones are called foot thongs or even Foot Undeez, as well as our picks for the best ones on the market so you can shop for contemporary and lyrical shoes with confidence!

What Is a Dance Paw, Foot Thong or Toe Undie?

Dance paws, foot thongs, toe undies – you’d be hard-pressed to call these “shoes”, but that is essentially the purpose they serve! Dance paws are like fingerless gloves for your feet, with a suede patch on the ball of the foot which is attached to a mesh or neoprene fabric that wraps around the front of the foot like a glove. 

There are usually holes for each individual toe, or one large opening for the 4 small toes and a small hole for the big toe. Lyrical shoes like these are the most low profile foot covering on the market, meant to provide traction and protection for only the ball of the foot. The toes and heel are out in this style of shoe, which are able to help the dancer feel the floor without anything in the way. 

The original Dance Paws have not changed much over the years, while brands like Capezio created their version, called Foot Undeez, in a variety of colors and fun patterns.

How Are Dance Paws Supposed To Fit?

Dance paws should fit snugly, as any extra movement from them around the foot could cause a dancer to slip and fall. Dance paws and similar kinds of footwear come in Extra Small through Extra Large sizes, which are converted from street shoe size, so be sure to consult a size guide for help choosing the right size for your dancer.

What Is A Half-Sole Dance Shoe?

Half Sole Dance Shoe

Half-soles, or “turners” as many dancers call them, are exactly that – half of a dance shoe that purports to help dancers turn better. Half-soles include the front half of a ballet shoe, with one or two elastic straps that loop around the heel to keep them on the foot. Made of leather or canvas, these shoes became popular as dancers realized that rhythmic gymnasts wore them to create a more seamless line between their legs and their feet unlike full sole shoes. 

Half-soles have a suede patch on the ball of the foot just like ballet shoes. Without the back half of the shoe, the dancer’s arch is on full display and creates a long visual line from toe to hip while turning in relevé.

These types of shoes are mostly made in a variety of flesh tones, and are meant to be worn without tights. A challenge of wearing half-soles is that depending on the shape of your foot and heel, the elastic straps can fall off easily when the foot is pointed (in the biz, we call this “disappearing heel syndrome”). 

One hack that can sometimes help is to wear stirrup tights over the shoe so that the stirrup part of the tights wraps around the elastic, keeping it a bit more secure to the foot. Also, many half-soles like this pair from Bloch include a silicon backing on the elastic straps that stick to the skin to help keep the shoes on.

How Are Half-Soles Supposed To Fit?

Half-sole lyrical shoes should fit like a ballet shoe, snug like a sock. Be sure not to allow any growing room, as these shoes do stretch with wear and become unusable if they are too big. They come in a range of sizes that convert from street shoe size into Extra Small through Extra Large depending on the brand. It’s important to consult a size chart for accurate conversions. 

What Are Dance Socks?

Socks are no strangers to the contemporary dance classroom -especially in college, but a recent change in the world of dance is the technology used to create dance socks that are specifically worn instead of footwear. This phenomenon has taken off in recent years due to the popularity of shows like So You Think You Can Dance, and social media trends.

Dancing in socks can allow for greater articulation through the feet, a more solid foundation on the floor, and a seamless look if the socks are skin tone.

Dance socks like the popular Apolla Shocks are made of moisture-wicking, antimicrobial compression material, creating a snug fit in all the right places. Shocks, as they’re known in the biz, have a right and a left and come in several styles and traction options. 

Unlike your run-of-the-mill, regular cotton socks, socks made for dancing like the BlochSox have features that emphasize safety and health, like a padded heel for shock absorption, and compression for circulation.

How Are Dance Socks Supposed to Fit?

Most dance socks come in Extra Small through Extra Large sizes, but because of the compression fabric, you may need to size up if you have a wider foot or are uncomfortable with compression. Dance socks should be tight but should allow all ten toes to rest comfortably on the ground.

How much do Lyrical or Contemporary Dance Shoes Cost?

Lyrical and Contemporary dance footwear ranges in price from $20 USD to $40 USD.

Should You Wear Only One Lyrical Shoe?

Absolutely not! Think of it this way – would you wear only one tap shoe? No. Would you wear only one sneaker? No! By wearing only one lyrical shoe, the dancer is broadcasting that they only plan to turn on one side – the side with the shoe. In addition to promoting one-sidedness, wearing only one shoe is confusing from an aesthetic point of view. The one shoe trend might be popular, but it is incorrect. As I like to say, “It’s two shoes or no shoes for me!”

How Do You Store Lyrical and Contemporary Shoes?

Whether you choose half-soles, paws, or dance socks, be sure to store them properly – allow them to air out between uses and keep your dance bag open to allow for air flow. Dance socks can be hand-washed or machine washed and line dried.

Can Lyrical and Contemporary Shoes Be Tried On or Returned?

Most dance stores do not allow paws or socks to be tried on due to hygiene issues, so always double check the sizing conversions to ensure you purchase the correct size. Similarly, paws and socks usually cannot be returned because of hygiene issues and the fact that they stretch quickly once tried on or worn even for a short amount of time.

Ready to buy your lyrical or contemporary footwear?

Hopefully, you now feel confident knowing more information about lyrical and contemporary footwear and their different functions for dancers. These styles of footwear are very popular at dance studios and your dancer will likely need a few pairs over the years! Happy dancing!

Other articles about dance shoes you might be interested in reading!

About the Author

Lesley Mealor

Lesley Mealor is a dance industry professional, with over 15 years of experience in all facets of the dance world, from dance education and adjudication, to dance retail and product development, to on-stage experience. A graduate of Oklahoma City University with a degree in Dance Performance, Lesley serves as the co-host of Making the Impact - A Dance Competition Podcast, and is a director of events for Spirit of Dance Awards. She resides in New York City with her plants and her cat, Charlotte.