Category : The Shoes

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The Shoes
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How to tie Irish dancing soft shoes

Tying soft shoes can be tricky, particularly if you have the type of foot that shoes just don’t want to stay on! As technology advances and the soft shoe manufacturers keep pushing boundaries, the way we tie laces has changed. Many shoes now have two or three eyelets along the side, allowing dancers to tie shoes in a way that is both secure and comfortable. If you’re new to shoes with eyelets, we’re going to walk you through the most effective tying method, courtesy of Ryan and O’Donnell.

If you’re someone who has issues with your heel slipping off, the most important step is the final step – passing your lace around the lace at the back eyelet. This gives you a really secure tie on the foot. Remember, you don’t want to tie the lace around your foot as this can restrict the tendons in the foot and cause cramps. Pamela McDowell, Managing Director for Ryan & O’Donnell, points out, “If you really do prefer tying the lace round your arch we recommend you only do this for competing, and whilst practicing avoid this lacing technique.” If you usually tie your laces around your foot, give this method a try and see if it makes a difference.

Is this how you tie your laces? Do you have a different method that works for you? Share in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page

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The Shoes
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Are you making these mistakes with your soft shoes?

When talking about Irish dancing shoes, much is often made of the stress and hassle of breaking in hard shoes – the blisters, the pinching, the stiff soles. It’s easy to forget that soft shoes can be just as tricky! Pamela McDowell, Managing Director for Ryan & O’Donnell answers the most frequently asked questions about soft shoes, with advice on breaking them in, getting the right fit, and making sure they last the distance.

What do I look for?

While soft shoes might not look like much (some leather and shoe lace) there can be a big difference brand to brand. According to McDowell, “There is little support in soft shoes due to the very nature of their design and purpose, however you should still look for what the manufacturer is offering to compensate for this, such as good arch support, shock absorber, and a slightly stiffer base, which will give you more support to get up on your toes and offer some protection.”

When trying them on, McDowell says, “The soft shoes should feel tight and pinch a little, however you should be able to walk in them without any pain and be able to dance in them with a little discomfort to start with – it does not take long to mould soft shoes to your foot, and dancing in them will stretch the shoes out slightly.” The fit is key, particularly when it comes to the heel. “The shoes should also fit snug around your heels and should not be slipping off – the last thing you want is for them to go flying off during a competition! If you find the shoes are loose around your heels, try on a bigger size – it could be that the shoe is not fitting over your heel properly as they are too small in size.”

Should they hurt?

No. They should be tight and your foot should feel supported, but you shouldn’t be in pain. “If the shoes do not feel supportive on your foot, and is very painful or you are not able to walk in them, then either the style or size is incorrect.” McDowell points out that tying the laces correctly during the fitting process is crucial, saying, “When trying soft shoes on, try and tighten up the laces yourself so you will feel how the shoe really fits and looks on the foot – if you need help ask the sales assistant. There are also a few different lacing/tying techniques which every dancer should explore. If you are not tying the shoe properly it will affect your performance and we would suggest you ask the sales assistant the recommended method for lacing any particular style. Do not be afraid to experiment with new lacing techniques when practicing, just because you were shown one way doesn’t mean another might not suit or feel better on your foot.”

Just on lacing, there has long been discussion about whether laces go around the foot or the ankle. “Ryan and O’Donnell do not recommend that you tie the lace around your arch as it is not good for your foot, and is the reason why you often get cramps in your arch as you are restricting your tendons,” says McDowell. She goes on to add, “We have a recommended lace technique which holds the heel on very securely and does not require tying the lace around your arch. If you really do prefer tying the lace round your arch we recommend you only do this for competing, and whilst practicing avoid this lacing technique.”

How do I break them in?

According to McDowell, “Soft shoes should not need much breaking in, especially if you buy the correct size. The best way to break in any shoe is to simply wear them to practice and change shoes half way through – you will soon start to prefer your new shoes over old worn shoes as you will notice the support is better and that your dancing will reflect this.” She goes on to add, “It is also advisable to try out the shoes first of all in the house on carpeted floors as soon as you get them – this will give you an opportunity to confirm it is the correct fit before dancing in them, and give you confirmation that you are wearing the right size/style. If the shoes do not fit right then it should be possible to exchange them if they have only be worn for short period of time on carpeted floor.” Another great piece of advice from McDowell, “It may also help en-route to class that you warm the leather up in your hands and bend the shoes slightly for 10/15mins before wearing them for the first time to class. This will make the leather a little more supple when you put them on at class.”

How do I keep them in good condition?

Soft shoes often seem to stretch and wear out, but the problem could actually be that you’re buying them too small. Truth. McDowell explains, “Try not to buy soft shoes too small – whilst you want a tight fit you shouldn’t drop down several sizes for fear of stretching them out. Soft shoes are essentially a bag of leather and your foot will naturally stretch them out, however if you squeeze your foot into 2 full sizes smaller than your actual size not only are you doing your foot harm but your foot will instantly start to stretch the leather as soon as you wear them. We therefore recommend buying your soft shoes tight so that they pinch when you first put them on, as dancing will stretch the shoes to eventually become a better fit moulded to your foot. Buying soft shoes too small will stretch them out very quickly and they will become floppy very quickly.”

Sizing can be quite confusing when trying to match up a regular street shoe size to a dancing shoe size. “Ryan and O’Donnell soft shoes are small made and already take the above into account, therefore we recommend you buy your correct shoe size or drop down half size for ultra tight fit.”

Not only do you want to buy the right size so they don’t stretch, you need to look after your shoes. “To maintain the shape of soft shoes, regularly putting a clean sock into the toe area will absorb any dampness and help maintain the shape. It is important to air your soft shoes after you have been wearing them otherwise not only will the dampness from your sweaty feet start to break down the leather, but your soft shoes will start to smell bad. We also recommend applying bees wax around the stitching of the soft shoe sole unit as often as possible to help prolong the stitching and reduce wear and tear”, McDowell explains.

How often should soft shoes be replaced?

There are many factors that contribute to how frequently soft shoes should be replaced, such as practice and competing schedule, the floor you dance on, and how ‘hard’ you dance. McDowell says, “We recommend champion dancers should be changing their soft shoes every 3 months if they are practicing as well as competing in them. However some champion dancers will change more frequently than this and we find many top champion dancers tend to like buying new soft shoes at major competitions and wear them to compete in at the same event as they feel more supportive in new soft shoes. For those not competing at Championship level we would advise replacing soft shoes every 4 to 6 months.”

How often do you replace your soft shoes? What brand do you wear? Do you do a particular type of lacing? Comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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The Shoes
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Are you breaking in your hard shoes the right way?

Whether it’s your very first pair, or you go through six pairs a year, breaking in hard shoes is never fun. Beginners right through to World Champions all have war stories of blisters, bleeding, and general frustration at getting the leather to bend and soften in just the right way. There are secret hints and tips shared amongst dancers, shortcuts to getting shoes broken in – some work and some do not. We spoke to Adrian Gavigan, shoe expert at Antonio Pacelli, to debunk some of the most common methods.

Myth: Folding the shoe in half and placing it under a mattress or couch cushion will bend it the right way
Fact: Hello, taco toes*. According to Gavigan, “folding them and putting them under the mattress can destroy any support and creates a weak point in the sole. This can cause dancers to roll over the shoe when doing toe stands.” Better to manipulate the shoes with your hands so you can see that it is bending in the right spot.

Myth: Standing in hot water will soften the leather
Fact: It will actually destroy your shoes. Gavigan says, “this is a terrible idea and can affect the stitching and glue used to adhere the sole to the upper, as well as drying out the leather. It also invalidates any warranty on their shoes.” Best not to try that one!

Myth: Using a leather softener like Hot Glove (used on baseball mitts) will speed up the process
Fact: Be careful what you use. This is a tricky one, and not something Gavigan advises. “We have heard of dancers using products designed for other uses, but again, this can damage the leather and make the shoe non returnable in the event of a fault.” Some leather softeners, like Hot Glove, require putting your leather product in the oven – we definitely don’t recommend putting your hard shoes in the oven!

So after this list of don’ts, what are Gavigan’s do’s? “The best advice I can give is to wear them around the house with a comfy pair of socks to start the process of moulding the shoes to your feet.” Unfortunately there are no quick fixes, and you don’t want to risk damaging your shoes trying to rush the break in process (they are expensive, after all!)

But what if you really struggle to break shoes in? “If a dancer has real trouble breaking in hard shoes then there are models out on the market such as our Ultralite jig shoe which are designed for no break in time and are made from soft leather and have soft flexible soles.” says Gavigan. He goes on to add, “However, dancers need to remember that these shoes are for experienced dancers only. These type of shoes require a dancer to have strong arches as the shoe relies on the dancers foot for structure. If you want a good middle group then the Ultraflexi jig shoe is a good balance of easy break in and support.”

How do you break in your hard shoes?

*taco toes – when your shoe/foot bends so far over that it creates an unnatural curve, much like a taco shell. This is not a good thing! Your foot should be straight when doing toe stands – taco toes lead to serious injuries.

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The Shoes
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How often should you replace your hard shoes?

If your hard shoes are wearing out too quickly, what could be the problem? Is it you, the floor, or the shoes? We posed this question to Irish dance shoe expert Adrian Gavigan of Antonio Pacelli, and his response had us chuckling – “You are probably practising too much and therefore will end up a championship dancer!”

That might be true, and we love Adrian for saying that, but when you’re paying a pretty penny for jig shoes, you can’t be replacing them every couple of months. Thankfully Gavigan had a serious answer for us, saying that every dancer will wear out a pair of jigs shoes differently.

According to Gavigan, “there is a current trend towards more flexible dance shoes straight out of the box, and this does affect the life span of the shoe. Twenty years ago an Irish dance shoe was much more solid than today’s versions. They were very difficult to break in (ask your dance teacher about them!) but once they broke in they would last years and give great support. However today’s dancers do not want to endure the discomfort of breaking them in, hence the evolution of the dance shoe to current styles. The closest style to this hard wearing version is the Superflexi. It does have a more flexible sole than the style we were making years ago but still has a great balance of support, flexibility and value for money.”

Something Gavigan really wanted to highlight was the dangers of dancers putting tips on the Capezio Boys reel shoes as a way of avoiding breaking in hard shoes. Gavigan said that his team have been asked to do this by several dancers and they have refused. He says, “the Capezio reel shoe is not designed for tips and putting tips on a shoe which has NO structure is an accident waiting to happen. We have frequent conversations with dancers who have broken ankles and sustained long term injuries from wearing these types of shoes.” He goes on to note that some Irish dance organisations are banning them from next year.

If you’re a champ dancer who is hard on your shoes, it is worth considering going for a less flexible sole and spending the time breaking them in if you find that you are burning through flexi shoes quickly. Something else Gavigan advises is not dancing outside on concrete or on non dance floor surfaces. “If you perform regularly then keep an old pair for outdoor performances and exhibitions.”

In terms of the physical structure of the shoe, and how it wears out, how often should they be replaced? Gavigan says, “The best advice I can give, is to first listen to your body. When the shoe starts to break down it’s not supporting and protecting your foot, or the rest of your body, as well as it was when you first started. How do you know when breakdown is occurring in a shoe? Easy. Your body will tell you.”

“Nagging little niggles in the form of sore arches, shin pain, achy knees or other small annoyances will start to manifest themselves when you’re not getting the support and protection you once were from your shoes. These aren’t full-blown injuries, but rather persistent enough aches or pains that could very well turn into a larger problem if something (in many/most cases, footwear) isn’t addressed.”

If the structure of your shoe is still strong and comfortable but your tips are wearing down, Gavigan notes “Don’t forget that the major manufacturers also offer a repair and retipping service. So if your tips are wearing out or you need a small patch on the sole then you can increase the life of the shoe by returning it for repair.

How often do you replace your hard shoes? Do you have any advice for keeping them in good condition and lasting longer?

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