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Swinging Around in Performa Janes

by Emily Gindle » on Mar 14, 2011 1

The uniform for doing the Lindyhop on a social dance floor is a polka-dot dress, a pair of leggings, and a pair of white suede-soled Keds. I showed up in cuffed chinos and Performa Janes.

I went swing dancing for the first time since middle school gym class, and while a lot of people worried about my toes getting stepped on (why is it that everyone always worries about toes getting broken in these shoes?) I found that my little Fivefingers were almost perfect for dancing. They kept me nimble and quick–and by the way, “nimble” is never a word I’ve used to describe myself–and I didn’t feel like I was clodhopping around. In fact, I was dancing the way kids learn to dance, by just having fun learning a different way to move. I didn’t stare at my feet and I didn’t even feel self-conscious, really, which was probably less due to my self-confidence and more due to the fact that in Tucson the men dance with everyone. Perfect strangers were incredibly forward, asking to dance out of the blue or, in some cases, just pulling me on the floor without asking.

Every dance is a conversation. When you dance with a leader who’s really good, you don’t really have to know how to dance at all; you just have to pay attention. The leader’s hands tell you exactly what to do by putting pressure on the small of your back and turning their wrist to lead you into a spin, or guiding your arm over their shoulder and dropping your weight into a dip. I stopped worrying about my two left feet and the steps and concentrated on where I was being guided, and a lot of the dancers made me instantly look like a pro. I eventually came to this conclusion: that the leader is the choreographer, the designer. He invents the dance, and the girl is the jewelry, the flair, the beauty. In this respect I wasn’t doing my part, I was more just trying not to fall down, but I’ll get there eventually.

There was only one downside to the Fivefingers, and that was the Vibram outsole. It happens any time you dance in a shoe with a rubber sole: the rubber grips to the floor just a little too much, and when you’re trying to swivel and step and kick, your shoes aren’t as willing to move with you. You don’t feel it at first, but after three hours of the jitterbug, blisters will eventually set in. I managed to escape any lasting damage to my toes; I think the leather was soft enough for that, but by the end of the night my feet were toast.

In one small respect, I’m looking forward to the day when I wear the rubber off my little leather Janes; then they’ll be perfect for cutting the rug all night long.


1 Comment

  1. Talia

    November 15th, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    You can have a shoe cobler add suede soles to your vibrams, or you can just do it yourself with shoe glue (if you’re crafty and adventurous). Many swing dancers buy whatever shoes they like (keds and converse are favorites), and add suede to the sole. I’ve been swing dancing for over 15 years and have typically used aris allen which are great shoes, but they’re often too narrow for me and now that mine are worn out, I’m going to start using vibram fivefingers with the added suede sole. Good luck!

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