One of the things we get asked about all the time is what shoes you need. As we're going to have a specialist dance shoe stall at Ain't Misbehavin' on 7th December 2011, now seems a good time to set out the options which range in price from £3 to £100+
When you start
You don't need anything special - any comfortable shoes will be fine to begin with, but try to avoid high heels, ankle-restricting boots, or very grippy soles as these make it more difficult. There's no point spending lots of money until you know you're going to continue, but once you've got the Lindy hop bug then dance shoes make a world of difference.
NB If you get any ankle or knee pain on dancing it may well be because your shoes are too grippy or that they don't have enough shock absorption so go for one of the options below as soon as you can - the cheaper options of tape/insoles are fine and could solve any problems for less than £10.
How to choose
There are loads of different options - some of these depend on how much money you want to spend, and some on what your personal preferences are. Most women prefer flat shoes for Lindyhop. You can either convert normal shoes (from about £3) or buy specialist dance shoes (from around £30). The prices below are all from David's memory and intended as an approximate guide only.
If you become really keen and start regularly attending weekend dance camps then you should have more than one pair of dance shoes. It's better for your feet to switch; it's good to have a choice of shoes for different floors; two pairs last much more than twice as long as single pair; and, you'll always have a pair that are already worn in.
Normal shoes & conversion options
Duct/gaffer tape - tape it in strips to the bottom of your shoes to make them more slippy. Make sure to get a normal tape not a non-slip one, you want them slippy! You won't be able to wear them outside without having to redo them, and you'll need to redo them anyway after a few nights dancing. About £3 a year. (Mithi still uses tape to convert smart shoes for dancing for an evening do.)
Suede (also known as 'chromed leather' especially by US dancers) - This is a very popular option with dancers and is cheap if you've already got the shoes, but its more hassle than buying dance shoes. If you stick suede to the bottom of any comfortable shoes then you get a great fast (i.e. slippy) shoe. You may need to cut off or sand off tread from the bottom of the shoes first if it isn't more or less flat. You can buy a scrap of suede and then cut it to size and glue it on yourself. You can buy it already cut for shoes - £5 from Lion Stores, North Street, Southville - and then stick it on yourself. Or you can get a cobbler to do it all for you - £15 from the one at the bottom of Park Street, opposite College Green. NB You won't be able to wear shoes outside once you've put suede on the bottom.
Hard-soled shoes - Traditional styled leather shoes work well if they have a leather sole, and you may be able to find a second hand pair that's cheap (remember to check the sole). Some will have a leather sole and a leather/wood heel (which is slippy), others have a leather sole but a rubber heel which will grip when you put your heel down - both work and are a matter of personal preference. Most rubber-soled shoes are much too grippy, but very occasionally there are some hard rubber soles that can be slippy, but try them out before buying. Most of these you could also wear outside. Cost anywhere from £5 to £100+
Insoles - It can be good to have some shock absorption in your shoes, especially if you're not dancing on a wooden floor. If your shoes don't have enough, then you can buy basic heel inserts from around £5, or the orthotics-styled ones for a little more.
Specialist dance shoes
Black/white pumps - These are probably the most popular shoes among women who dance Lindy hop. You can find cheap ones and stick suede on to them yourself, or you can buy ones that are specially made for dance, for example by Aris Allen. I think around £30 or £35.
Trainer style dance shoes - These are generally immediately comfortable and very well cushioned, for example Aris Allen do an ultra light suede-soled trainer for around £40 (David loves these for long hours in workshops at dance camps).
Leather dance shoes - For both men and women, often in classic styles such as brogues, black n whites, etc. For women there are also more delicate styles, but be cautious of shoes designed for ballroom or tango - most women find the heel too high for Lindy hop. Most leather dance shoes have a hard leather sole which is fairly fast (i.e. slippy) and most leather shoes will need a little bit of wearing in before you can dance in them for hours at a time. Popular makes are Aris Allen and Bleyer.
Other soles - Some dance shoes have a hard rubber sole which can still slide but are generally not as fast/slippy as leather or suede. There is also an artificial suede style surface which isn't as fast as real suede. Some people like their shoes less slippy and prefer these. Around £40 upwards.
Split soled shoes - These are shoes where the middle section of the sole is missing, so there is only a section of sole under the ball of the foot and another under the heel. They are very flexible and usually have excellent shock absorption. They are intended for jazz and other dance styles and not many Lindy hoppers wear them, but some love them (David has a pair which he likes using for long workshop days due to the shock absorption, and for dancing outside as the hard rubber soles cope better with concrete than suede). Popular makes are Capezio and Bloch. Prices around £40-£70.
Tailor-made dance shoes - You can get dance shoes, usually leather, specially made for you which should mean a perfect fit and exactly the style and colour(s) you want. If you spend this kind of money then save them for dancing and don't wear them in the street to get to/from dances. Prices £70 to £100+