Paragon2Pieces, This One’s For You

Belated.  Yes.  But here goes…

About a week ago one of my readers, Paragon2Pieces, posted a comment on the blog:

Hi Stephanie, this is unrelated to DWTS, but I was wondering if you could do a post about dance shoes.  How long does a pair last?  What style works best for you?  Have you ever tried one of the more expensive brands and, if yes, was it worth it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Hope all is going well inside and outside of the dance studio!

Bad blogger that I am, I have allowed life to get in the way of a prompt response.  But I can’t express enough how much I appreciate interacting with my readers.  I originally intended to just reply to her comment but, as you know, I am a prolific writer, I love to opine, I have lots to say.  There could be no short, concise response from me.  As I began to see how long my reply was becoming, I decided it should be a blog post in its own right.

Perhaps I missed the boat, Paragon, and you’ve already purchased a new pair of shoes.  Even so, I guess late is better than never.  Here is my experience:  I have tried Dance Naturals.  They are expensive and actually made in Italy, I think.  It took about a month to get them – I bought them online.  They were, to date, my favorite shoes.  In that case, for me, they were worth the money.  I don’t remember how much they cost (probably upwards of $300 with all the shipping and everything – plus they were leather, not satin), but I do remember how amazing they felt on my feet once they were broken in, and that, if you’ve ever danced in heels (much less walked in them) is priceless.

However, I don’t know if it is absolutely necessary to purchase a top end pair of dance shoes to find a pair that you love.  I think that the shoe style that will work best for a person depends upon their feet.  It is probably best to be fitted in person.  I took a chance buying the Dance Naturals online, especially since they are in European sizes.  I was worried for a long time that they wouldn’t fit once I got them and I had to stretch them out a lot.  The top of my foot always bulged a little below the strap over the toes.  They honestly weren’t a perfect fit.  But over time they softened and it worked well enough.  So, next time around, even though I loved that pair of Dance Naturals, I’d prefer to get a pair fit in person before purchasing them again.

I recently purchased some new shoes that were not Dance Naturals.  I tried on a bunch of pairs in the store.  Some I thought were cute but when I put them on I could barely stand in them.  I don’t know if one brand is “better” than another but I do think that quality of materials and construction methods used can extend or shorten the life of a shoe.  I am really bad about wearing my shoes (and clothes too) way past when a normal person would still wear them – they just get so broken in and comfortable.  The guy at the shoe store told me I had to throw out the two pairs of shoes I’d been holding on to, they were that bad.  lol.  The other pair of shoes that worked for me are not as cute but they support my foot well and they just came from a catalog at one of the dance studios I used to go to – a no-name brand.

I will also share that my friend, Ivonne, had an experience buying shoes.  She opted for a less expensive pair before the competition she did and realized very quickly that in general you get what you pay for in terms of ballroom shoes.

I think it’s probably wise to have a few pairs of dancing shoes.  Practice shoes, for instance, are awesome.  I can dance for a long time in those suckers, they are so cushy.  However, they have a lower heel, so if I only dance in those I have to retrain my calves, ankles, and all the little accessory balance muscles in my lower leg to handle higher heels like I’d wear in a competition.  It took me a long time the first time around to acclimate my feet and legs to dancing in heels – it is not something I’d like to repeat!  It was painful, required that I ice my feet nightly, and took a long time.  So, I’m looking to have a balance between keeping my lower legs and feet trained to handle higher heels, and also giving them a break so I don’t overstress my feet by wearing the practice shoes.  It stinks to not be able to get in the cardiovascular conditioning I need to accrue because my feet hurt too much to walk.

The pair I currently have are a middle-of-the-road brand.  They are sturdy and they work well enough for everyday practice.  They aren’t particularly cute and I’ve been thinking that I want another pair of those Dance Naturals again.  Once I get my new job lined up and financially things aren’t so tight, I probably will do that for myself.  At the end of my Dance Natural shoe life-span they felt as good on my feet (with 2.5 inch heels) as my practice shoes feel now (with a 1 inch or 1.5 inch heel).

I don’t know how long ballroom shoes are “supposed” to last.  It probably depends on how often you dance.  For someone like me who tries to dance multiple times a week and doing double lessons sometimes, they won’t last as long as for someone who dances once weekly.

Also, I think because of the differences we all have in foot shape, size, and anatomy, we will all have different preferences for brands that work well for us.  I know Marietta has a particular brand she likes (I can’t remember it right now), and a lot of people like Ray Rose.  Again, it depends on what fits your foot best and what you are willing to pay.  I’ve personally used both less expensive and more expensive shoes and both have served their purpose.  Ultimately I liked the more expensive pair better.

I hope this perspective helps and good luck finding the perfect pair for you!  Maybe when you find them you can send me a picture of them and I’ll share it on the blog, or you could post them on the Dancing With Stefanie Facebook page.  You could even write a follow-up guest post to this sharing your shoe-related experience, if you like.  Consider it an open invitation.  Also, I invite you, and any other reader, to ask questions, suggest topics for future blog posts, and to generally interact on the blog.

I appreciate you!

Sincerely, Stefanie

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The Healing Power of…Shoes?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Dance Starz studio (and later the mall)

Woman’s styling class with Marieta and power shopping with Katie

I have this plan, see.  I’m going to be this amazing, feminine, yet sexy, and strong, and powerful, graceful, and technically excellent ballroom dancer.  That’s how I show up in my head, in any case.  But the picture in my brain differs considerably from what I see in the mirror every day.

Even though this gap between reality and the vision I have for myself is as wide as the Grand Canyon, the only way to bridge the chasm is to begin to take steps in real life to bring this vision into becoming a reality.

The Stefanie in my mind’s eye is sassy, and confident.  She wears cute outfits on her fit body and looks “put together.”  She wears make up and takes the time to style her hair.  If she feels like it, she thinks nothing of wearing leopard skin prints unabashedly, paired with fuchsia high heels, that scream, “Look at me!”

The Stefanie in the mirror wears black (it’s slimming, right?).  She rarely wears make up.  He hair is frequently found pulled back in a ponytail.  She’s pudgy and shy.  She can’t look into her own eyes in  the mirror, much less those of any audience member.  She wears flat shoes, also black, because they are easy and comfortable, and don’t draw much attention.

But luckily for me, I have friends who support me in my vision.  My friend Katie, I’ve mentioned her before in previous posts, is a fashionista!  She saw my sad black shoes and knew that something needed to be done.

“We’re going shopping,” she tells me, “you need some SOS pumps.”

To me SOS means help, and for certain I need an assist in this arena.  However, according to Katie, SOS really means, “Sex on a stick.”  ( Can I even write about this in a blog…I’m blushing as I write this!)

Um, yeah.  SO OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE!

But that vision in my head of what I could be won’t shut up.  I take a deep breath and think, yes, I’m going to do this.  I don’t know when, but we will.

Yesterday was the day.  I got an email forwarded from Katie about a shoe sale at a local store.  I look at the pictures of exotic pumps and text her back, “Holy Hell.”

We made an appointment for the very same evening.

But first its a group Latin styling class aimed at women taught by Marieta.  I swear, I get an education just by watching this woman move.  She is gorgeous.

First she warms us up, feet, ankles, legs, hips, rib cage, arms.  We are ready to go.  She teaches a little Latin Rumba combination, explaining we are to be feminine and move as though we were swimming under water, fluidly, like seaweed waving under the sea.

Next it is Cha Cha.  She explains that each dance has a different dynamic and characteristic.  We need to move in a way that will create a distinction in our movements, avoiding a monochromatic performance.  Cha Cha has pop, pizzaz, drama, and sharpness.  We do a similar combination as the one for Rumba, and surprisingly, dancing beside this beautiful dancer, I’m creating similar pictures with my body.  I pat myself on the back.  Forget the fact that prior to coming to the lesson I was having a “skinny day.”  There’s nothing like standing next to a professional ballroom dancer to shatter a “skinny day,” but hey, I’m moving, and with each shake and shimmy, I’m one calorie closer to being in shape.

Class ends and Katie is there ready to go.  We speed off toward the mall.  It is 8:05 and the mall closes at 9pm.  But we are on a mission and I intend on accomplishing it.  We park and walk across the mall to the shoe store Katie has in mind.

Remember that scene from “Pretty Woman,” where Julia Roberts in full-on hooker garb walks into the ritzy upscale boutique and the saleswomen won’t give her the time of day.  Well, it was kind of like that.  The sales girls eye me sceptically.  First off, I’m in my black dance pants and black sweater top and those sad black flat shoes.  I wear none of the make up that adorns their pretty faces.  I’m twice the size of their normal customer.  My hair is pulled back in the famous pony tail.

Katie, however, wastes no time.  She asks for Lisa, whom she spoke with earlier today requesting her to set aside a few shoe models.  Lisa hasn’t complied, but oh well.  Katie begins grabbing pumps from here and there and I begin trying them on.

I have to admit, I am so glad I had back up.  If I had attempted to go into this store by myself, I would have chickened out.  I don’t have any confidence in this arena and especially with the way the sales women were interacting with me I would have felt very out of place, very uncomfortable.  Why do I give my power away like that?  I’m not entirely sure.  But with a true friend at my side, we created our own “bubble” of fun and exploration.  We had a blast.  I’m so proud of us – we got some SOS pumps in 23 minutes flat!  Talk about the power of intention and committment.

As I was trying on one pair, walking, just walking in them mind you, I wobbled.  Katie bust out laughing.

“You can do the Cha-Cha in 2.5 inch heels but you can’t walk!  You showed me the Rumba walks, now let me show you how to do the runway walk.”

She demonstrates how to walk on the tippy toes.

The sceptical sales girl suggests that perhaps I should try a lower heel first.  Clearly she doesn’t approve of my choice of SOS heels.  But you know what?  Screw that.  This isn’t about her and what she might be thinking.  It is about me.  And I’m not going to settle for less than what we came here for.  I’m committed.

I decide on the pair I want and tell the sales girl to ring me up.  In a flash, I am almost overcome with emotion.  For one split-second, I see the vision of Stefanie completely unfolded, the Stefanie who wears shoes like this.  I see that really, I am this girl, who fears not to wear bright fire-engine-red too-high-to-be-practical heels.

Yes, I really, really am.

It may be starting with my feet, but the feet have stepped through the partition from my inner mind’s eye to real life.

One foot represents me now, the other represents what I am stepping into becoming

Who knew that buying a pair of shoes could be so healing?  I certainly didn’t!

These are the ones I finally decided upon.

Now, what the heck am I going to wear with these!?

Again, Katie to the rescue.  We are set to find an outfit on Thursday.  I think I’ve been possessed by a “body snatches pod person.”  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe the real Stefanie, the one who’s been hiding all her life, finally feels like it is safe to come out.  She needs the support of her friends and a lot of love and compassion, but little by little, I detect her flower blossoming.  And all because of the support of a friend  who helped me find the courage to go and buy some silly, red shoes.  (I mean, awesome, sexy shoes).

I just need to learn how to walk in them….