ASK PLAYBILL.COM: A Question About "Character Shoes"

By Robert Simonson
25 Jan 2013

Actress Kelechi Ezie, currently in rehearsal to play Celie in The Color Purple for White Plains Performing Arts Center, shows off her character shoes.
Actress Kelechi Ezie, currently in rehearsal to play Celie in The Color Purple for White Plains Performing Arts Center, shows off her character shoes.
Photo by Matt Blank

Dancers know that the shoes they shake in Broadway choruses are called "character shoes." But why that name?

*

Ask Playbill.com answers your (and sometimes our own) theatre-related questions. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

Question: I'm a theatre performance student, and like many of us, own the multiple pairs of character shoes, in both nude and black, t-strap and not, and multiple heel heights. My question is, why do we call them character shoes? When did that start? Is there a special requirement to make them "character shoes" instead of just heels? Do boys have them too? The guys here just call theirs "dance shoes," but is there another name for them? — Margaret Rojahn, Selinsgrove, PA



If you're a theatre hoofer, working on Broadway, Off-Broadway, regionally, or even in community theatre, you know what "character shoes" are. But you've probably never thought much about them, or their name. They're just something you have to own if you want to dance on a stage.

Character shoes are designed to aid the dancer in his or her fancy footwork. What makes a character shoe a character shoe? "The flexibility of it, so you can feel the floor under you and articulate the dance movement," said Alicia Rossi, the manager of LaDuca Shoes, the midtown shoe store that serves the theatre, dance, film and television communities. "It's the flexibility of the shoe. It's the way they're engineered. You can get movement throughout the foot and are not are held back."

Character shoes are usually worn by female ensemble members in a musical, but, yes, there are character shoes for men as well. (LaDuca carries five styles for men.) The shoes usually come in either black or tan, so that the color of the shoe does not distract from the dancer, and typically have a heel of one or two inches, and a strap — sometimes one that just crosses the ankle but often a T-strap in front as well — so they don't go flying off into space during a high-kicking routine.

 Continued...