The Shoes

Soft Shoes:
Worn by females - they are often called Ghillies, Pumps, or Soft Shoes.  They are constructed of very soft kid leather - similar to ballet shoes in texture. Their laces crisscross across the top of the feet and are tied up either around the ankle or under the arch of the foot. Some dancers have the normal laces in the shoes and others prefer to replace the laces with black elastic - very handy for a quick change over when competing or performing in a show.
These shoes are to be worn extremely fitted on the foot, which enhances the dancers arch and also toes whilst she is performing. A good way to test the fitting of your shoe is to point your toes, when you have the shoe properly laced up. If you see a gap at the tip of your toes whilst your foot is pointed --- then the shoe is too big. When the shoe is too big the dancer's point does not look as strong and accentuated ---- this could loose the dancer valuable points whilst competing.

Reel Shoes:
Worn by males - these are often called reel shoes and they look much like a jazz shoe. They come in a matte leather look or can be made in a shiny patent leather. They have a hard heel which allows the male dancer to perform clicks throughout their soft shoe dances. Unlike the females soft shoe, is the sole of this shoe is reasonably firm and which enable males dancer to produce sound whilst performing their soft shoes dances ie: trebles and shuffles.

Hard Shoes:
Often called Jig Shoes, Heavy Shoes, Hard shoes and they are the used to create the beautiful rhythmical percussion's of Irish Dancing. These shoes are unique to Irish Dancing. They are made of black leather with fiberglass heels and taps on the tip of the shoes. You can buy the shoes with a leather strap across the top of the foot - which keeps the shoe firm on your foot whilst dancing.
These shoes should also be firm fitting in length and width, this will prevent your foot from sliding around inside the shoe and causing blisters and also preventing you from falling down inside the shoe - when and if you are able to do toe-stands.
Jig shoes are in constant evolution. Manufacturers and designers bring out newer versions of this shoe each year in an effort to create the perfect shoe for Irish Dancers, that require minimal 'breaking in'. Gone are the days of nails in the heels and toes to create that sound. Also gone are the days of having to 'wear-in' the souls of the shoes making them flexible enough to dance in. Now we have super-flexi soled shoes, which enable a dancer to dance to their best ability almost immediately. The sole on these newer styled shoes are made of a suede kid leather which makes them incredibly soft and flexible.

There is always the option to buy Irish Dancing Shoes second hand - especially the Jig Shoes. The benefit of this is that the shoes are already broken in by another dancer. These second hand shoes will also be cheaper than buying a brand new pair - which is great for the budget!!!

Quite often the floors an stages that we dance on are very slippery, which at times, can prevent us from dancing our best.  A way around slipping is to apply Duct Tape to the tips and heels of your hard shoes.

Irish Dancers And Their Shoes Are Inseparable

From the first a dancer struggles with tying her ghillies or tries to click his reel shoes, shoes become an integral part of their dance. Irish dance shoes have their own little "subculture" in the Irish Dance world. The shoe vendors at any Feis have the most crowded tables as dancers vie for sizes between competitions. Many large Irish Dance schools have "Shoe Ladies" who do the group ordering and fitting for their schools. Even small Irish import shops have now found a lucrative new "angle" in selling Irish Dance shoes. The Irish Dance shoemaking business has grown in leaps and bounds in the past few years.

Joan Rutherford is the head of Rutherford Shoes in Hilton, NY. "We've been making shoes for ten years and ship shoes all over the world. The soles and uppers are made in Counties Cavan and Louth, Ireland and then we finish them here in the U.S. We make fifty pairs of hard shoes a day"
The biggest innovation that Rutherford has seen in dance shoes has been the invention of the flexible sole. "Shoes in general today are much more softer and flexible than there were even 5 years ago. The dancers feel they can get up on their toes much better in the flexies, especially this new one we have with the suede sole from Canada"
The tip and heels of their shoes are made from fiberglass; the soles and uppers are all leather. They also sell a more traditional hard shoe with a metal arch shank that they recommend for beginners because of the added arch support. Rutherford buy Capezio split sole jazz shoes, takes off the rubber heel and puts on fiberglass heel for the boys' shoes.

Patrick Fay of Fay's Shoes comes from a family of shoemakers.
"My father has been making shoes for 25-30 years now in Dublin. In January of this year we started production here in Yonkers, NY". He also feels the flexible sole hard shoes have been the biggest innovation in shoe design.
"For years people have been complaining about how hard it was to break in new shoes. So, about seven years ago my father came up with the idea of a Super-Flexi shoe. There is virtually no breaking in of these shoes now at all"
Their most recent innovation is a new type of fiberglass toe and heel that premiered at the World's called Fay's Hi-Tech shoe. "The new toes and heels have a unique sound to them - louder and more dense"

A relative newcomer on the Irish dance shoe scene is the Hullachan Pro. Made by dance shoemaker Craig Coussins in Scotland, this innovative gillie (or ghillie) has been garnering many positive reviews by dancers and teachers in North America. The shoe comes in six widths, has a new arch shape and optional heel pads. Coussins has done much research into injury prevention and dancing and has designed his show with this in mind. The optional padding has been designed to absorb up to 80% of the impact, the arch supports hug the arch, do not stretch and alleviate the need to tie the laces around the arch.
Ontario teacher Michael Patrick Farrell: "I have seen the Hullachan Pro and highly recommend it. Several of my dancers use it. It is heartening to see at least on shoe designer thinking of the biomechanics of the foot"
Kansas teacher Christine O'Riada also noticed the increase in comfort as her daughter Tara began wearing Hullachan Pro. "I am finding less incidents of complaints from her concerning soreness in her feet and/or legs and so far no incidents of shine splints which have plagued her off and on"

Proper fit and breaking in of new shoes are vital for all dancers, parents and teachers. We asked advice from various experts about these issues.

1. Proper fit

**Patrick Fay of Fay's Shoes: "Some parent want to buy shoes too large for their children so they still fit into them next year. This is a mistake. The soft shoe MUST fit the dancer's foot like a glove. They do stretch. If there is too much room in the toes the dancer won't be able to point properly"

**Christine O'Riada, TCRG: "I tell the dancer to lace the shoe and point their foot. If there is bulging at the heel, and/or if the end of the dancer's toes are visible through the last opening towards the toes of the shoe, then the ghillie is too big. Besides having the right control over the shoe, another reason not to buy the ghillie too big is that the dancer's foot does not ever look like they are pointing their toe. This is not good, especially in competitions and performances. Plus, I do not think the dancer would be comfortable in the shoe as the sole would not sit properly against the sole of the foot. I have had dancers tell me in the past that their shoe is hurting. Usually it is because the shoe is too big and the sole is resting incorrectly against the sole of the foot"

2. Breaking In
**Christine O'Riada: "Unlike the hard shoes it is not really difficult to break in the soft shoe ghillie.
The rule of thumb I use for the ghillie is the one I use for street shoes. They should be broken in gradually like any new street shoe. I do have dancers write L for left and R for right on the sole of their shoe as there does not appear to be a right and left shoe when one first buys the ghillies" Some dancers use a product called 'Shoe Stretch', a spray found at most shoe stores, for stretching their soft shoes if they feel too tight.


1. Proper Fit
** Mike Mullane, ADRG: "Fitting dancing shoes is extremely important. With all the different styles the shoe should be matched to the dancer's ability. Beginner and World Champions have different needs it must be recognized that what is needed in a shoe for a World Champion, is not needed in a shoe for a newer dancer learning a basic hornpipe or treble jig"

**Christine O'Riada TCRG: "only when a dancer has been dancing for a couple of years in the beginner hard shoe do I recommend that the dancer purchase Flexi or Super Flexi shoes. There is a period of adjustment for the dancers as the tips on these shoes are thicker and longer. The dancer has to really work at getting control of the shoe. That is why an experienced dancer should only wear them. At this stage one should only buy the correct size of Flexi shoe. It should fit neatly for if it does not and the dancer attempts to go up on toe, the foot will be jarred down to the top of the shoe.
The dancer will hate it and the possibility for injury exists.... The dancer needs to have a strong arch so that they can arch the Flexi shoe in order to produce a nice pointed, arched look to the foot when performing and competing.

**Patrick Fay: "Elastics can help dancer with narrow feet get a snugger fit in there hard shoes... The new flexible hard shoes should fit snugly. They, too, will stretch at least a half size once the dancer starts to wear them. there really is no breaking in with the new hard shoes other than getting used to the toe pieced that will be a little higher since that dancer hasn't worn it down yet"

2. Breaking In
Everyone seems to have their own personal favorite ways of breaking in hard shoes!! Most involve ways of stretching or softening the leather to fir the dancer's foot.

**Ontario Teacher Alison Reaney Brown ADRG: "When breaking in a new pair of hard shoes, my dad used to stuff them with wet newspaper, soak them in a bath, take a hammer to the heel to soften its grip and spend countless hours bending them back and forth. Now with the Flexi soul it is not as necessary but my dancers till experience discomfort with new shoes so I have passed this info onto them. I always tease my dancers that they don't know what a real blister is since the shoes are so much better now"

**Ohio Teacher Ann Richens ADRG: " The only thing I have ever found in breaking in shoes is to wear them often as you can even if you are not planning to dance. Have you ever tried on a pair of shoes in a store that have been tried on by many people? They are usually a little stretched. I wear shoes that I have had for 25 years with nails in them. I have bought fibreglass but the toe pieces are so hard to get used to.

**New York Teacher Mary Heneghan ADRG: "My dancers fold their hard shoes in half and rubber band them and keep them in their shoe bags that way. This helps form an arch, breaks in the sole of the shoe so that dancers can get up 'on toe'. Of course, the best way to break in shoes is to wear them - when practicing at home and at class" Some dancers use products to soften their shoes such as those made to soften baseball gloves.

Some dancers buy used shoes from other dancers who have out-grown them. This way they have already been broken in :o))

Article from the Irish Dancer Magazine June/July 1999 issue

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