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How to Dance on a Bad Dance Floor
(Without Killing Yourself, Your Knees,
or Anyone Else)

Related pages on our web site:
Buying Dance Shoes
Do-It-Yourself Suede Soles
Suede Soles Maintenance

Often you'll find yourself dancing on a non-ideal dance floor. Maybe it's a regular dance floor that has become "sticky" (or very slippery) because of humidity or improper care. Maybe it's a warehouse space that has temporarily become a dance floor. Here are some suggestions sent in by readers or picked up on the net. We invite you to send in any good suggestions that we have not yet mentioned!

Generally speaking, there are 3 approaches:

  • Wear different shoes.
  • Apply a temporary fix to the shoes you are wearing.
  • Dance differently.

We go into full detail below.

Floors that are too slippery

A. Wear different shoes.

The best cure is to wear a different pair of shoes -- different sole materials give amazingly different amounts of slip versus grip. Advantages to this approach: effective. Disadvantages: requires planning ahead, which means already having experience with the dance floor in question. And it requires owning multiple pairs of shoes, each with different soles, which requires extra spending.

If you are a regular visitor to a slippery floor, keep trying different shoes each time you go until you find a pair that give you just the right combination of slip and grip. For informal Swing dancing venues, you can even wear sneakers. We've found that for a lot of informal places with slippery floors, somewhat worn-out running shoes are good. (New running shoes are usually too "grippy.")

In general, suede soles almost always give just the right combination of slip and grip. All ballroom dance shoes come with thin suede on the soles. A regular (fuzzier) suede works even better when dealing with slippery floors. You can add suede soles to any pair of dance shoes, regular shoes, or even sneakers at a good shoe repair store for about $40, or you can do it yourself.
     - See our DIY Suede Soles page for detailed advice on how to do it yourself or where to find a good shoe repair shop.
     - See our Buying Dance Shoes page for detailed advice on buying suede-soled ballroom dance shoes, or swing dance shoes.
     - See our Suede Soles Maintenance page for advice on taking care of suede-soled shoes. You'll want to keep a wire brush (described in the Maintenance notes) in your shoe bag -- the fluffier you keep the suede, the less slippery the floor.

B. Temporary fixes to your shoes. The above is all well and good if you can arm yourself ahead of time with the right pair of shoes. But what to do when you're at a dance or wedding and life is unexpectedly slippery? Three possibilities:

  1. Here's a brilliant tip from Kat in Australia: If wearing plastic or smooth leather soled shoes that are too slippery, go to the bathrooms and wet a bit of toilet paper, wipe it on the soles and then wipe dry with another piece of toilet paper. She reports, "I don't know why this makes shoes less slippery but it does, with no permanent effects to the shoes or floor." We have had confirmations that this works great, and it seems like a nearly perfect solution: easy, quick, free, no advance planning or fancy equipment required, and no permanent effects to shoes or floor.

  2. If tip #1 doesn't quite do the trick or if its effects fade too soon, step outside, friend, step outside . . . and scuff up your soles on a concrete sidewalk or even on the street. Just stand there and slide your feet back and forth for a while, and twist them, too. The rougher and more scuffed the sole, the better -- you're turning the smooth leather sole into something vaguely like suede. It won't hurt the shoe, and it will help your dancing a lot.

  3. If you can plan ahead, buy a pair of suede slip-on half-soles (about $22) and keep them with you. These clever little things slip onto the front of your shoes like a muzzle, adding suede soles to the front of your shoes. Keep a pair in a pocket whenever you go out somewhere that might involve dancing. (Available at Teddy Shoes and maybe Patterson's/Back Bay; addresses for these stores are on our Buying Dance Shoes page.)

C. Dance differently. On slippery floors, you might try the following:

  1. Take smaller steps than usual. The slipperier the floor, the smaller the steps. Any rock-steps should be really tiny, which means making the steps before and after the rock-step small also.

  2. Bend your knees more than usual for better balance (like martial arts folks).

  3. Don't push off as strongly on traveling steps.

Floors that are sticky or rough

The main thing is to get a little more "slip" happening for yourself, without creating dangerously slippery spots on the floor.

Please NEVER do any of the following, because they are so dangerous for other people:

  • NEVER sprinkle powder, boric acid, or any similar stuff on a dance floor to "cure" a surface problem -- it creates dangerous, invisible, super-slippery patches for others. Any change in slipperiness/stickiness from one area to another is extremely dangerous! If the floor is really bad, tell the dance organizers and let them deal with it, so that the whole floor gets treated in a consistent way. (Below, we've noted one possible exception, regarding outdoor dancing on concrete.)

  • NEVER put wax on the bottom of your shoes -- it transfers to the floor and creates dangerous, invisible, super-slippery patches for others.

  • If you have been dancing or practicing on a waxed floor, NEVER wear those shoes to a real dance place -- again, the wax will transfer first to your shoes and then to the other dance floor, creating dangerous, invisible, super-slippery patches for others. Instead, reserve one pair of shoes just for the waxed floor, and wear different shoes on all other floors.
         How to tell if a floor has been waxed? If your turning or pivoting movements create slightly dusty-looking swirl marks in the floor finish, or even leave a little bit of fine powder behind, it's probably wax.

Onward to some positive and pragmatic suggestions:

A. Wear different shoes.

  1. Change shoes. Put on the slipperiest-soled shoes you own. Dress shoes with new leather soles are slipperiest. Suede-soled ballroom dance shoes are probably next best, especially if the suede has lost most of its nap. Swing shoes and Capezio Dansneakers are probably next. If you have worn-out running shoes or sneakers, try them next. But regular sneakers, running shoes, all other kinds of athletic shoes, LLBean boots, hiking boots, and Topsiders are all terrible -- you might as well be wearing golf spikes on carpet. If changing your shoes doesn't help enough, try some of the next suggestions.

    See our DIY Suede Soles page for a description of wonderful stick-on soles (disks, actually) made from slippery plastic that completely cures the rough and sticky floors problem. They are available at Highly recommended after 6 months of personal testing. However, note that they are semi-permanent. You will need a dedicated pair of shoes or sneakers for them.

B. Temporary fixes to your shoes.

Most of these cures involve finding some slipperier stuff and sticking it on the bottom of your shoes. If you have a limited supply of stuff to stick, put it on the shoe that gets the most pivoting, starting with the ball of that foot. For men, that's usually the Left shoe. For women, it's usually the Right shoe -- except for Lindy Hopping women, who tend to pivot on the Left shoe slightly more.

  1. Gaffer tape (aka gaff tape). This is currently our favorite temporary solution. Gaff tape is high quality, fairly expensive tape that looks like a cloth version of duct tape. Unlike duct tape, it does everything well: it tears easily, it sticks remarkably well, and it removes really well without leaving residue (unless you dance on it for several weeks straight - and even then, it's no big deal). It sticks really well on the soles of all shoes, including extremely uneven sneaker soles. Best of all, it makes shoes or sneakers just the right amount of slippery, even on good floors. This means you can use it to convert ANY pair of sneakers or shoes into dance shoes temporarily! So what is this stuff and where do you get it? Gaffer tape is used mostly by the electrical folks (gaffers) on film and video shoots, as well as by music crews, to tape down their cables, and, apparently, by bookbinders. It is available at art supply stores, or online from film and video suppliers such as Markertek. Tip #1: gaffer tape is NOT generic. The good stuff works well (e.g., ShurTape/Permacel P-665 white, or TecNec white, about $17 per 2" roll). The cheap stuff doesn't work -- it peels off while you are dancing (generic brands at Pearl Art, Utrecht, or Guitar Center, about $10-12). A single roll will last a year. Tip #2: Get the cloth version (nice amount of slip), not the vinyl version (too much grip). Tip #3: Surprisingly, color matters. White is the only good color! The colored versions (black, blue, gray, whatever) are always less slippery, more grippy, perhaps because of the pigments. Tip #4: So, for a really specific recommendation, buy a roll of 2" white ShurTape/Permacell P-665. Sam Flax stores in NYC sells it or you can find it online. Good stuff. It's what we use. This is not a cheap solution, unfortunately, and it requires planning ahead just to find the tape, so you might want to share a roll with friends. It also helps to carry a small pair of scissors to trim around the soles of your shoes, if you value a tidy appearance. [Tip discovered by us.]

  2. "Tenacious tape"™ An easy, cheap way to turn any shoes, including rubber soled shoes, into smooth-gliding dance shoes! Tenacious Tape™ is a brand name tape found at REI or EMS stores, or other outdoorsy stores, or online. It comes in a small roll 3 inches wide, enough to treat about 2 pairs of ladies' shoes, or maybe 1 pair of men's shoes. It is used for mending tents, backpacks, etc, and comes in several colors, including black and clear. A good way to use it is to make a template of the sole of your shoes, just the ball and toe area. Cut the Tenaciouus Tape to match your template, peel off the backing, and stick it on the bottom of your shoes. It stays on for many wearings, but can be peeled off without leaving sticky residue! Of course, it lasts longer and stays nicer if you use your shoes only for dancing, not on the street. [Tip from Jeanne, Citrus Heights, Sacramento, CA.]

  3. Peds. (Those little nylon or cotton stockings that just barely cover the foot and don't show above the top of the shoe.) Buy the largest size you can find ... and wear them OVER your shoes! This simple, brilliant trick will turn most sticky floors into a slippery delight. So effective that it even works on the "marley" (rubbery linoleum) floors in ballet studios. Sometimes the result can be TOO slippery, so try experimenting with nylon versus cotton peds. You can stretch the heck out of them to get them over your shoes without worrying because they're going to get wrecked after two or three wearings anyway. You can probably even come close to color-matching your shoes if you want to. Peds are available in black and other colors in every chain pharmacy and any place else that sells women's stockings. Yes, it feels really weird to stretch a pair of peds over your shoes, especially for us guys. But the effectiveness is all the convincing you'll need. Peds are so small and lightweight that I now keep a pair of black peds in my shoe bag at all times, just in case. Advantages: cheap, extremely effective, no harm to shoes or floor, nearly invisible over flats or men's shoes. Disadvantages: you have to buy them in advance; can sometimes be too slippery. [Tip learned from Lindy Hop dancers in New York City.]

  4. Name tags. Easiest line of defense if they're available. You know those adhesive "Hello, My Name Is..." name tags? Grab a few and slap them on the soles of your shoes. Cut or tear off the excess. Not the best of solutions, but quick, cheap and handy. NOTE: this will leave some name tag fragments on your soles -- the adhesive removes easily from clothing but seems to fuse solid with everything else. If you're wearing regular shoes, the fragments will wear off soon enough. If you're wearing suede soles, your wire brush will get rid of the final fragments. [An emergency maneuver of our own invention, born of desperation.]

  5. You know that moleskin that you've been carrying around in your shoe bag, along with a pair of scissors, just in case a blister starts to rise? (No, not the bandaids, the moleskin.) Cut off a large-enough piece and slap in on the soles of your shoes. Before cutting the moleskin, you can place it under your shoes (fuzzy side down) and trace the shapes you need. NOTE: This might leave some adhesive residue on your shoes, but since the adhesive is designed for skin, it's probably fairly easy to remove. [from Jody G. of Toronto; Kate of Boston]
         Moleskin is a thin, felt-like, self-adhesive product that you cut to size and put on your feet to prevent rubbing and blisters. It comes in sheets of about 4" x 6". A package costs a bit more than a box of fancy bandaids (about $3-5). Hikers use it. Most of us use bandaids instead, but moleskin works better. It has recently become almost impossible to find in the big-chain pharmacies -- CVS has stopped selling the good brands and now only sells their own cheapo brand that has a nasty adhesive. Independent pharmacies still carry it (such as the family-owned Skenderian Apothecary, 1613 Cambridge St. in Cambridge, MA, behind the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 617-354-5600). You might also be able to find it in outdoor-gear stores and the like. Note that molefoam -- same thing but with a much thicker foam backing -- is too thick, and not good for this purpose.

  6. Adhesive-backed stiffened FELT from the local crafts store. Costs about a dollar. (Much cheaper than moleskin.) Stick it to your shoes and trim to size. Ron Wilcox of Fairfax, VA, tells us the effect is similar to suede but a bit "faster," and pretty long lasting, too: 4 evenings of Lindy/Swing dancing so far, he says, without serious degradation or peeling. If it's too fast and you want more control, don't put any on your heels. [from Ron Wilcox of Fairfax, VA]

  7. Masking tape. It works. It's cheap. It's temporary. It also works to make sneakers or rubber soled shoes usable on good dance floors, such as when you forget to bring your dance shoes along on a trip. [Tip learned from New York lindy hoppers.]

  8. Double-sided indoor carpet tape -- leave the protective liner (release paper) in place on the second side! This stuff comes in rolls about half the width of duct tape. Slap some strips on the soles of your shoes; trim to size. Replace as necessary. This, we hear, makes for a really slippery dance shoe on any slightly sticky wooden floor, and even on ballet-dancers' "marley." Kind of like having teflon paper on the bottoms of your shoes. (It's probably not good on rough-textured concrete or macadam, which might scratch up the liner-paper and expose the outside layer of adhesive!) NOTES: (1) This might leave some adhesive residue on your shoes; you might want to test it on an old pair of shoes or sneakers first. (2) If you are applying it to suede soles, it won't stick on very well -- you might need to use something stickier in between, such as name tags or duct tape, then apply the carpet tape onto that. (We're talking real dedication here.) [from Ellen of Boston]

  9. Clear packing tape. Get the wide rolls. Slap it on the soles of your shoes; trim to size. This stuff will make your shoes extremely "fast" (slippery), but it may rough up a little as you wear it. Replace as necessary. NOTE: This might leave some semi-permanent adhesive residue on your shoes; you might want to test it on an old pair of shoes or sneakers first. [from Stacey P. of Waltham, MA]

  10. Duct tape - NOT recommended. Duct tape isn't what it used to be. Once upon a time, duct tape was an inexpensive item with fairly high quality adhesive, useful for everything. Not any more. Now it is low-quality garbage, thanks to cheap Chinese ultra-low-quality imports, often labeled "Duck Tape." The problem is that the tape is highly likely to roll over on itself, exposing the sticky side to the floor, and leaving streaks or patches of adhesive on the dance floor. [Updated December 2014]

  11. On an outdoor concrete floor (and only if permitted, and only if you promise to clean up afterward): Try sprinkling some corn meal on the area you'll be dancing on. [from we-forgot-who]
           Dancing on concrete is terrible for the knees, etc, by the way -- it's as hard as, um, concrete -- so we strongly recommend insoles if you are going to dance on it. Good insoles, designed for running shoes and available in sports and running-shoe stores (about $7-18), are much, MUCH more shock-absorbing than the lightweight, throwaway Dr. Scholl's ones ($2-3).

C. Dance differently. It's difficult to dance on really sticky or rough floors without putting harsh twisting stress on your knees. The stickier or rougher the floor, the greater the danger to your knees. The problem is that just about all the really nice moves in every dance involve some twisting or pivoting. You might try the following:

  1. Pick your feet up more than usual.

  2. Eliminate most of your twist-dependent moves for the evening.

  3. When you do occasional twisting stuff, pick your feet up and put them down in the new position, to the extent possible, instead of twisting in place.

  4. Try to lift (rise) when pivoting or twisting (ballet-like), instead of going down (jazz/lindy/ballroom-like).

  5. In dances that allow a Triple Step, use it all the time -- it lets you 'skitter' your feet into position instead of twisting.

  6. Sit out more dances than usual. Give your knees a rest.

  7. If your knees hurt the next day, do even less twisting the next time you're on a rough/sticky floor.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?
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Page first written 12-1-2000.
Kat's tip added 8-2-2003.
Peds tip added summer 2006.
Felt tip added November 2006.
Masking and Gaffer tape tips added January 2007. info addeed December 2012.
Jeanne's tip about Tenacious Tape added June 2013
Duct tape dis-recommended December 2014
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