Behind the scenes in the world of dance an ongoing debate has been underway over the pro’s and cons of dancing without shoes.

Some arguments against dancing without shoes are of course that it compromises safety and even claims that boogying barefoot increases the spread of fungal infections, passed around by unclean feet or conditions. Others report that they are more prone to blistered, bleeding, torn up feet without the protective barrier that footwear would provide. While other cases made are merely superficial, such as that of the ballet world which prides itself on uniformity of movement as well as appearance. From the neatly pulled back buns to matching monochromatic leotards, it is typically frowned upon to stand out or stray far from tradition, even down to the footwear. The irony is that it is no secret that ballet shoes (particularly pointe shoes) are known to severely blister and bruise feet. The easily broken down design is not made to last long, much less cushion the leaps and spins of the hardworking dancers. Despite these sometimes painful realities, there are others in the dance world who disagree.

For dance styles like contemporary, Senegalese and Afro-Brazilian, just to name a few, dancers perform barefoot in order to fully feel and connect with the ground beneath them. Proponents argue that this allows for greater precision of pointed feet, spins, and greater dexterity of movement overall. Some even go on to assert that the callouses dancers get from dancing barefoot are good on the contrary, and are essential for more precise movements.

Early founders of modern dance advocated dancing barefoot in part to further distinguish it from ballet, for which proper footwear and attire is mandatory. It was also believed to reflect core values like connection with ones body and a representation of earthly ideals. This was in spite of the fact that being barefoot was seen as defiant at a time and place when it was considered scandalous for a woman to bare her ankles let alone her naked feet. Dancing barefoot has since become the standard of modern and contemporary dance training, whether practicing in the studio or performing on stage.

Maria Hanley Blakemore, an advocate for early childhood dance education and youth ballet instructor, strongly believes that dancers, especially children should not wear shoes at all. In fact, she insists that her students dance barefoot. One reason is that shoes often fall off or constantly need to be tied. Also, some students complain about their shoes being uncomfortable and want to remove them anyway. Once one dancer removes his or her shoes, the others tend to want to follow suit; which lends to the next problem of students mixing their shoes up with one another’s. 

So rather than wasting time and becoming a distraction in class, she encourages them to go with out shoes from the start, so that they can focus their attention on dancing rather than what they’re wearing. Blakemore and others argue that greater sensations can be felt while barefoot, allowing one to experience greater connection by imagining the feeling of things like mud or other objects between their toes.