Customizing Your Tap Shoes: Fashion and Functionality

IMAGE Customized pair of Capezio K360s by Matthew A. Shcroepfer IMAGE

Customized pair of Capezio K360s by Matthew A. Schroepfer

Making Your Shoe You

Tap shoe customization has reached fantastic proportions, and days can be spent designing the look of a tap shoe that is uniquely “you.” I’ve seen people sewing on patches of their favorite bands or cartoon characters. There are tiny taps that can be screwed onto the sides for easier metal-on-metal notes. Leather now comes in every color of the rainbow and then some. Straps, laces, Velcro, high tops, low tops, sneakers, boots, socks… anything that you can imagine going onto or into a tap shoe probably can.

“The Basic” Tap Shoe

In 1925, Ned Wayburn, head instructor and proprietor of the Ned Wayburn Studio of Stage Dancing and one of the most influential dance studios of the early 20th century, published The Art of Stage Dancing.  In it he describes what he considers an appropriate shoe for tap class.

“For tap and step dancing there are several types of shoes, the most common being that known as the “Mary Jane” or juvenile shoe with ankle strap and button or buckle. Another favorite is the laced low shoe, known as the Oxford, made for both men and women…There is also a low shoe for “Tap” dancing called the “Split-clog” shoe, used by very advanced pupils only…”

The basic look of the tap shoe has not changed too much in the last 100 years.  Normally made to resemble a dress shoe, the Oxford-style and Mary Jane-style tap shoe can be traced back close to the turn of the century.  Though your shoes may appear to be a dime-a-dozen, specialized modifications can increase the synergy between your feet and your tap shoes.

Shaving the edges of the outsole on the sides of the front tap makes it easier to hit those great scraping sounds produced where the edge of the tap meets the wood.  This adjustment is ideal for dancers with less flexible ankles.

A rubber pad can be applied to the bottom of the outsole if you find yourself (unwontedly) slipping and sliding around the stage.  The rubber is applied behind the front tap to give the dancer extra stability.  Concurrently, many shoes come with the rubber padding attached and may be removed if the dancer requires less floor-to-shoe friction and wants to pull off some Jimmy Slyde-esque moves.

But what about fashion?

Tap shoe companies now offer an amazing number of colored leathers and fabrics from which to choose.  While the pattern of the shoe is similar, no one will mistake your lime-green, patent leather shoes for anyone else’s!

IMAGE The Bloch SO313, aka The J-Sam Shoe. IMAGE

The Bloch SO313, aka The J-Sam Shoe.

Brogueing, a series of decorative perforations, can be applied anywhere on the shoe.  An expert  can add a dotted design for a truly distinctive look.  If you really want to stand out, why not design your own?

A good example of a tap shoe that features unique stitching and brogueing is the Bloch SO313, also known as the shoe co-developed with dancer Jason Samuels-Smith.
Like health and comfort alterations which I covered here, tap shoe modifications for fashion and  functionality are as numerable and varied as the different types of dancers that wear them.  Have a good idea for a design?  Make it happen!

 

“The Classic” Tap Shoe

IMAGE Fred Astaire and partner in his fancy wing-tip oxfords. IMAGE

That's what I call "Puttin' on the Ritz", if by Ritz you mean fancy tap shoes, which I do.


Look at those shoes on Fred. The wing tip-style Oxford is classic. Made with glossy patent leather, the bone-white vamp melts around
the black toe cap. To revive the style, shoe companies have begun to offer numerous variations on this traditional theme.  It is the mixture of old and new that has attracted the attention of today’s tappers to the wing tip’s delicate sensibility.

The wing tip, or full brogue as it is known outside of the U.S., is a style of toe cap that originates in Scotland and Ireland.  The eye-catching and distinctive “W” pattern on the toe has made this style synonymous with the image of the Hollywood Golden Age tap dancer.

While any tap shoe could be customized with a wing tip, Miller and Ben Tap Shoes has gone to great lengths to explore this style to its fullest.  Most of their shoes feature a wing tip toe cap and are available in 48 different colors.  Not to mention the possible color combinations for shoes that have two or three different sections, you can easily spend as much time designing your tap shoes as you spend wearing them.

 

IMAGE An array of colorful Miller & Ben Tap Shoes IMAGE

If you flip through their catalog really fast, it's like watching the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“The Vegan” Tap Shoe

There isn’t a big market for vegan tap shoes, but as discussed in my article, Deconstructing A Tap Shoe, there are a number of alternative materials besides leather that can be utilized for tap shoe construction.  I asked Matt Schroepfer, owner of Dancing Fair, to design the perfect Vegan tap shoe.


IMAGE Photo of Matthew Shroepfer IMAGEMatthew Schroepfer’s Vegan Tap Shoe

For the upper, which consists of the part or parts of a shoe that cover the toes, the top of the foot, the sides of the foot, and the back of the heel, Matt would use hemp as his material of choice.  Hemp is a soft, durable fiber that requires little pesticides, no herbicides and is a high yield producing crop.

The insole, a strip of material added on the bottom of the inside of the shoe for added comfort and protection, can be made out of pressed paper or pressed plastic.  Old paper and plastic can be recycled by first pulping the material and then pressing them into a solid structure.  The balance between flexibility and rigidity of pressed paper or plastic makes it a fine alternative material to leather.

For the heel, wood is a suitable candidate.  The SoDanca SDTA715 (the heart shoe), considered by many as a higher end shoe suitable for all levels of tap dance, uses a wooden heel in its construction.

When it comes to the outsole, things get a little tricky.  Matt recommended a synthetic outsole made from polyurethane or polyvinyl Chloride.  His reasoning is that there is no other material that can match leather’s flexibility and durability, but Matt lamented that synthetic plastics don’t really agree with the vegan mindset.  However, as demand grows, so will investments in research and development and the best way to overcome this hurdle is for vegan tap dancers to speak out, and let them know that there is a market for vegan tap products.  Contact the shoe companies, and let your voice be heard!

“The Future” Tap Shoe

The electronic tap shoe is no mere flight of fancy.  In fact, it has already been built.

Alfred Desio is the inventor of Tap-Tronics, a system designed to pick up and amplify a dancer’s taps.  Tap-Tronics could also add effects like delay and reverb to the tap dancer’s arsenal.  Pickups, transducers that convert sound vibrations into electrical signals, are installed in the tap shoe.  Overdrive, phaser, flange… if a guitar can do it then so can a tap shoe.

But why take my word for it when Alfred Desio himself can explain it so much better?

httpv://youtu.be/i0TeWo6Escg

Tap-Tronics never really took off, and there are only a handful of dancers that even come close to replicating Alfred Desio’s work.  To hook up a solid system would require a good amount of time, money and energy, but with the technological innovations in sound recording, an electronic tap shoe should be relatively easy to fabricate.

“The Other” Tap Shoe

Any shoe can be a tap shoe.  In fact, a tap shoe need not be a shoe at all!  Anything that covers your foot and has taps securely attached to the bottom constitutes as a “tap shoe.”  I’ve personally seen a Chuck Taylor-style shoe with taps attached at a boutique in Michigan, and I have heard of people attaching taps to sneakers, loafers, and even socks!  Ouch.  It seems that there isn’t any kind of shoe that gets the boot when it comes to making a tap shoe.

Speaking of boots: Tap Dogs, an Australian based touring tap company founded by Dein Perry, features tap dancers that wear heavy duty boots with taps affixed to the bottoms.  I saw Tap Dogs at the Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois, several years ago, and I remember that the sounds were relatively clear, and the tone was very deep and a little muted.  While they may not make for the most versatile tap shoe, boot-taps certainly matches the music and attitude of these Aussie Bootmen.

IMAGE Tap Dogs logo and dancer IMAGE

Aussie Aussie Aussie! - Oye Oye Oye!

Express Yourself

Tap dancers are by definition creative, though that creativity need not be limited to your dancing.  Find a pair of shoes that you love, and then find some wood and express yourself!

Stay tuned for the next installment: Customizing Your Tap Shoes: The Taps.

Have you customized your tap shoes?

Tell us about (or better yet, share a photo of) your unique shoes in the comments!

 

Tristan Bruns
Tristan Bruns has studied the art form of tap dance with Donna Johnson, Ted Levy, Lane Alexander and Martin "Tre" Dumas and has a BA in Music from Columbia College Chicago. Tristan has been an ensemble member of such Chicago tap companies as BAM!, The Cartier Collective and MADD Rhythms. Tristan currently produces his own work through his company, TapMan Productions, LLC, which includes the performance ensemble The Tapmen and the tap and guitar "band" of The Condescending Heroes.

Comments

  1. Very informative review. Is there any production tap shoe with microphone that I can order? I am trying to get that for a friend of mine.

    Thanks,
    Sean

    • Sean,

      Sadly, there is no such shoe on the market right now, though I have talked at length with some luthier friends of mine (guitar builders for the layman) and the technology definitely exists. They can make pickups, transducers that turn vibration into transmittable sound, so small that you could place them all over the shoe for a wealth of effects, but the problem is keeping them from getting too beat up. Plus, there is nobody willing to put in any time and/or money for R&D at his time.

      However, some people do electrify their tap shoes by using small microphones called a lavalier microphone or lapel mics. These are the tiny mics used in television and theatre and some dancers, most notably French-born Roxanne Butterfly, run the mic down the inside of their pants and tape the end of the mic securely around the ankle, on their pants, or on the shoe itself. The taps get picked up pretty well and can then be run through effects pedals like delay, distortion, a loop station, etc.

      Right now that’s the best that we have, but there are a lot of tap dancers performing with bands these days and the ones I see, well, you can barely hear them or can’t hear them at all. You can put mics in front of them, but that doesn’t capture the 360 degrees of sound, or put them on the board itself only to have them bounce and fly around. A “hot”, wireless pair of tap shoes would solve all of that. As soon as the ball gets rolling on this I will report on it as I also want a pair.

      Keep the faith, brother,

      -T

  2. where do i get capezio tap sneakers in us size 5. I am desperate?

    • There are 2 pairs on eBay right now in a 5 and 5.5
      I’m looking for an 8.5 or 9 and I’m desperate too!

  3. i am in search of a mid calf tap boot, i am assuming at this piont i will have to have them made???? :P does anyone know where to find such a tap that is already to go?? two years ago we ordered prairie boots and just had the taps put on but by the time my daughter was off stage her feet were bleeding from the jumps and constant tapping on the nails????? heeeeeeellllllp!

    • Erin-

      Yikes! Bloody feet? The sacrifices we make for our craft…

      Right now Capezio is out with their new tap boot, which I believe is called the Capezio 560, though I may be off on the numbers. It doesn’t show up in search results except for one picture, but if you call a company like Dancing Fair, Inc. they will know what you are talking about.

      Or else there are other options: You have already tried one of them – putting taps on regular boots, but if the boot is not designed for the amount of foot articulation that tap dance requires then, well… you know the rest.

      I have come across a women dance boot made by Nike – Shox Q-Vida, though I have never tried them on because of the stares I would receive trying on women’s boots. This may be more suitable to put taps on.

      Regarding nails and screws – glue on the taps! When my screws get stripped I just slap on some Gorilla glue and never have to worry about them again. Some complain about the tone being different, but I can’t tell the difference and I’m a stickler for such things. A cobbler will be able to do a nice job with industrial strength adhesives for a low cost.

      Good luck!

      -T

  4. Thanks for the info about vegan tap shoes but does anyone know where I could get a pair? I got custom-made ones last year (from Casimiro) but the outsole material used on mine isn’t flexible enough and I need taps!
    If anyone knows please comment!!! x

  5. For fashion choices, you can also try JustTaps. I have a pair, several dance friends do as well, and because they are completely custom made she can usually put together most color requests. The shoes themselves are good quality, and she includes taps when she ships them. They do take several weeks, though.

  6. I’d like tap sneakers to save my aching feet arthritic. Capezio has deep sixed their “dawgs.” Any suggestions for something like them or on how to attach a tap to a sneaker/running/walking rubber soled shoe, and what taps to use to avoid the sound-deadening effect? Thanks a mil.

    • Hi there,
      The best thing I’ve found is using your favorite Jazz sneaker (mine is pink Revolution jazz sneaker) and I drill a pair of Bloch taps into them. Be sure to add epoxy/heavy duty adhesive inside the drill hole as you are drilling so that they will last around 6-10 months. I LOVE them. They save my feet! No more plantar fascitis and other foot ailments!
      Erikamarie

      • Erkamarie, Thanks so much! Did you have to shave off the bottom of the shoe to get the tap to sit right (correctly)? Patricia

  7. Patricia,
    I didn’t shave anything, so the taps do sit out a bit. It doesn’t seem to impede my tapping, though. I teach young students, so I’m not doing toe-stands or anything. For that, I’d need my trusty old bloch split soles. You have to be a little wary when you drill, though, that you don’t use a screw that is too long. It will poke through the thick air pocket in the sneaker and actually through the sole of the shoe. I used 1/2 inch screws and the heavy duty epoxy (I think it was gorilla brand – not the glue though) to adhere my taps. It’s been 3 years/6 months out of the year with 2 days per week use and they are still good. I ordered an extra pair of dance sneakers as a backup in case these fail. I will just take the taps off of these and get new screws and adhere them to the new pair. It has saved my feet – I dance on an old concrete gym floor in an elementary school for 5 classes in a row 2 days a week – these fake-out dance sneakers are better than my tap dawgs AND my scaggs (or maybe scazz?) tap sneakers. Those are still around on ebay and other sites from Sansha. I also have a pair of capezio tap sneakers (not dawgs) from a few years ago – all of these are less flexible than my made up pair and tend to weigh on my feet after a few classes.
    Erikamarie

  8. This is where the Scazz t-tennis tap sneakers are (they are very inflexible, though)
    http://www.nydancestore.com/catalog/frontend/model/id/7161

    • The Scazz aren’t doing it for me if they aren’t flexible. I’m thinking of using a zumba shoe that I have that is extra cushiony and highly flexible. I’ll be the only adult with neon pink and green tap shoes – and that will very fun. Thanks Erkamaria.

  9. I have Nike Zumba shoes, but their sole is definitely not thick enough to screw in a tap well. I had to use the air pocket sneakers with a really thick sole. Just know that if you experiment, you might ruin a pair or 2 of shoes :) I tried this theory first on a secondhand pair of jazz sneakers from ebay. I never wore them, just tested the drilling. That’s how I found out you really need the adhesive inside the drill holes.
    Erikamarie

  10. Let us know how it works out! I LOVE finding new ways to tap! And green and pink are my FAVE colors! I’m thinking of making these my next tap sneaks:
    http://www.nydancestore.com/catalog/frontend/model/id/4897 (the pink and green pair)
    I bet yours will look like that!
    Good luck!

    • Those are really cool. I have a new craving for them. Mine are a bit older – read slightly ragged, but very comfortable I think called “Zs” or Zees. Thanks fo rth tip on the screws – I was actually worried about that wondering if I could cut them off with a wire cutting tool fi they came through. Ouch to that!

  11. I’ve done some test holes and found that I do better soaking the screw in glue then just drilling it in since the hole closes up so fast. I also have a little gizmo from home depot that I slip the bit through that keeps the screw going straight as I tend to angle them. Also use a magnetic screw holder ’cause damned things are so little that I can’t hold them very well – for this a needle nose plier has been my best friend. Now all I need is to get brave enough to do this on a real pair of useble shoes.

  12. Me and my friends are looking to get a really special present for our dance teacher when we leave our dance school in the summer (she has been teaching us for 10 years) and we had the idea of getting her some really nice tap shoes but were wondering if there is any way to embroider her name on to them?
    Looking on the internet we have found loads of sites where you can have different colours but nothing about stitching on to them.

  13. Kathryn,

    Contact Matt at Dancing Fair:

    The Fair Inc.
    2260 Terminal Road
    Roseville, MN 55113

    Email: info@dancingfair.com
    Phone: 1-800-637-6754 or 651-631-1415
    Fax: 1-866-636-3090
    They make custom tap shoes and ship them all over the world. There are amazing colors and combinations that can be done. There website is pretty cool. One group gave an instructor gold leather shoes for her 50th anniversary of teaching. When you talk to Matt tell him Pizi (like P.Z.) sent you. He will be able to tell you all about what is possible. Best, Pizi

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