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

By Robert Simonson
25 Jan 2013

As to the name, that's tougher to answer. There was a New York chain called the London Character Shoe Company in the first decades of the 20th century. But they seem to have catered to the general public, not the performing community.

A possible explanation is that the name was derived from the notion of the Character Dance. A Character Dance is a type of classical dance that plays an important role in the history of ballet. It is a stylized version of a traditional folk and regional dance, adapted for the stage. One example is the series of national dances that take place at the start of Act Three of Swan Lake. It is possible that the term Character Shoes came from Character Dance.

But Phil LaDuca — who danced on Broadway for Agnes DeMiler and Twyla Tharp before he became a shoe designer — has another theory.

LaDuca said that they were called character shoes because they were made to suit the character the performer was playing. "For instance, a black shoe for a keystone cop; a sneaker for a gang member in West Side Story. The weren't functional shoes. They fit the character. The look was appropriate for that character."

LaDuca guessed that the term came into use sometime in the late '40s or early '50s, when the American musical came into its maturity, "when dancers stopped being just chorus girls. Now, when men were dancing they were a character, and not a 'chorus ballet boy.'"

Asked why so many character shoes today look much the same, he said, "like everything else, things will become...watered down." So now you have "a stock character shoe."