Friday, April 24, 2015

Ballroom tip: Ladies' Practice Shoes

Having covered the basics of men's footwear, we'll now move on to the shoes available for ladies.  Practice shoes in several styles and brands are made for women, and most of them are similar to men's practice or latin shoes.  They are typically leather, lace up the front, and have a short, wide heel.  In fact, small-footed women can often wear boy's latin shoes as practice shoes; children's shoes are less expensive, so this can be an appealing option.  However, many other materials, colors, heels, and styles are also available in the women's section.

I cannot include a picture of women's practice shoes here, however, because I don't own a pair.  There seem to divided opinions on the usefulness of such shoes.  On the one hand, leather wears better and lasts longer than satin, the material of ladies' competition shoes.  The shorter, wider heel and closed top of practice shoes mean these shoes are easier on the feet when worn for several hours, which is why all of my lady dance teachers wear them for teaching.  They are also flexible enough to be worn for both standard and latin.  Certainly in my current school, practice shoes are really popular for students and teachers (not for students in lessons, though).

On the other hand, practice shoes don't feel or move like competition shoes, and that matters.  If you practice your turning with a wide, 1.5 inch heel, you will probably wobble when you switch to a narrow, 3 inch heel.  Drive steps in standard are also going to need to be adjusted between the wide and narrow heels.  Foot articulation is going to be different in laced shoes than in strappy, open latin heels.  This isn't a problem for everyone; the better your control and balance are, the better you can compensate for the change.  But you will need to compensate.

I personally fall in with the second opinion.  I practice in shoes no longer nice enough for competitions, and in fact just demoted a pair to practice shoes.  My new shoes should arrive next week, to introduce a post on ladies' competition shoes.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Caring for Patent Leather

Today’s tip addresses one of the annoying aspects of dealing with patent leather shoes.  The coatings that make them shiny make the shoes stick together, which is bad when one is supposed to close one's feet.  Patent leather can dry out and pieces of the coating crack off.  At that point, your shoes don’t add to the elegant, debonair look a man wants during competition.

To combat this, Supadance carries a siliconshoe polish.  It can be applied with a small sponge and will prevent the patent leather from sticking and cracking.  Lacking that, you can also use a petroleum jelly like Vaseline and rub a little bit onto the shoes.  This should be wiped off before putting the shoes away, but it will keep your feet from sticking together while dancing.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finished: Ellinor Hat

Look!  I finally finished something!

This is the Ellinor hat, from the pattern Ellinor by Maria Naslund.  It is a feast of twisted stitches and lace.  I love it.  The pattern itself is adequate in transferring information, but it does assume that the knitter can fill in details.  Instructions for steps like joining to work in the round are omitted, for example.  There are several rows where one must shift the start of the row to work a decrease at that seam.  The pattern also includes six different kinds of decrease, with minimal instructions on how to work them.  I spent a couple of busrides staring at the hat and the pattern instructions until I figured out a decrease that would get rid of the appropriate number of stitches, lean the way I wanted it to lean, and twist the stiches I wanted to twist.  More thorough details can be found on my project page.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Men's Competition Shoes

Men’s Competition Shoes

Continuing this little series on dance shoes, today we’ll discuss men’s competition shoes.  Standard and smooth men compete in patent leathers; latin and rhythm men use Cuban heels.

Men’s patent leather dance shoes are merely a patent leather version of the calfskin shoes discussed earlier this week.  Patent leather has been treated with multiple coatings to produce its characteristic shiny finish, though the coatings also make the shoes less flexible and prone to sticking together.  This can be a problem when one is trying to close one’s feet nicely.  International Dance Shoes actually wraps the sole of their men’s shoes up onto the inside edge of the ball of the foot, so that the suede sole touches when the feet are closed instead of the patent leather.

Patent leather shoes, though, complete the elegant evening wear look expected of standard-dancing gentlemen.  They were the only footwear acceptable with tailsuits, and only black or burgundy to-the-knee socks could be worn with them.  In more modern times, though, men should stick with black socks.

When a man starts competing latin or rhythm seriously, he starts dancing in Cuban heels.  These leather or canvas shoes have the same shape around the foot as the basic calfskin, but with a 1.5 inch heel.  I always smile when I see men wearing them for the first time; they kind of tip-toe around, unwilling to put weight on the heel, and are suddenly much more appreciative of what their partners can do in their 3 inch heels.  The purpose of heels for men or women in latin is to bring the weight more forward, as this helps produce the proper hip and leg action.  This also means that switching between shoes of different heights is going to require adjusting your balance all the time, and I don’t recommend it.  If at all possible, practice in what you will perform in.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Men's Practice Shoes

Last week’s tip got lost due to the Easter holiday, so this is the first of two ballroom tips to be posted this week.  This post will also start a short series on ballroom shoes for men and women: what types are available, what they are for, and a few tricks on how to care for them.

Starting with the men, this is the basic calfskin dance shoe.

In my experience, this is the first type of shoe a male dancer purchases, and the last type they wear as they retire.  The short heel is the correct height for standard, and the calfskin is flexible enough for latin, making these multipurpose shoes for those starting in dance.  They also require no special care.  The calfskin will mold to the foot over time, making a well-worn pair extremely comfortable.  The pair shown above are my husband's practice shoes, and all of my male dance teachers wear either calfskin or canvas shoes of this style for teaching.

A pair of these shoes should cover the needs of all social dancing situations and lower competitive levels.  However, plain calfskin won't cut it on the competition floor above a certain level.  Once a competitor becomes more serious (in the places I’ve danced, it was typically at gold level, or silver for those planning on continuing to gold), the standard dancers move onto patents, and the latin men get heels.

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Went to London

I took the eurostar to London for a short vacation.  I visited St. Paul's Cathedral.

I looked at all the artwork and learned about the history of this cathedral of the people.  I didn't take pictures, because that wasn't allowed inside.

I spent one more making slides, since my field has kind of an odd relationship with the concept of time off.