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Irish Dance Shoes: Out With The Old But How To Break In The New?

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Breaking up with your Irish dancing heavy shoes is hard to do! You are SO comfortable together now, so used to one another that you don’t even mind the worn leather, split seams and worn-out tips. Whether you’ve stretched your well-loved jig shoes for one or two or even three years now, it’s time. New laces or new tips just won’t do. No amount of gaffers tape will hold the two of you together for another competition. Your growing feet, your pinched toes, your hornpipe NEEDS new hard shoes!

photo courtesy Montague Irish Dance

Feis America on Irish Central reached out to our FaceBook friends who've ‘been there, done that’. From adjudicators and teachers to World Champions and trainers, we've got a plethora of suggestions for breaking UP with the old shoes and breaking IN those perfect, shiny, rock-hard new ones. Here's what they have to say:

"Practice, practice, practice! When I get new shoes, I don't put the old ones back on!" - Drew Lovejoy, Open Champion under 16 from McGing (Ohio), World Irish Dancing Champion, All Ireland Irish Dancing Champion and North American Irish Dancing Champion

“Wear the shoes around the house before dancing in them or try sleeping in them so they mold to your feet. Also bending the shoes help so they get an arch. Then start practicing in them!” - Mairead Early, McLoughlin School of Irish Dance (New York/New Jersey)

“Wear heavy socks and wear [the shoes] around the house or have your Mommie wear them for a bit!” - Jackie Nonienwicz, Feis Mom at The Gray School of Irish Dance (Connecticut), jokes.

“Practice, practice, practice.”
- Sean Flynn, ADCRG

Put them on your feet and stand in a pan of boiled water (only like 2 to 3 inches of boiled water, so it covers the sole of the shoe) for a few minutes, then try to do toe stands! I usually wear socks, it stretches the leather and kind of molds them to your feet. - Josie Callanan, Broesler School of Irish Dance (Maryland/New Jersey/New York)

“Stand in a tub of hot water until they are nice and wet. Time is the best way to break them in though.”- Michael Boyle, TCRG, Boyle (Massachusetts)

“ I bend them in half both ways and electric tape them overnight for 3 weeks! It’s hard to explain but fold them just below the tip one night, where my arch would be another night and close to my heel another, then alternate every night! But, just this past week at the All Scotlands, John Carey said to my mom, ‘soak them in water with your feet in them and sleep in them! “- Rose White, Rince na Tiarna (New York)

“Fold them in so the toe touches the bottom by the heel, then put a big rubber band around them to hold them that way overnight. - Barry Parsons, Middle America Region Feis Dad (Missouri)

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“I just broke in new shoes for All Scotlands! I bend my shoes a lot, and press down on the heels to prevent blisters. Also, you can wear your dance shoes around the house just to get a better feel of them. Every time you walk or dance in your hard shoes, you should feel as if you were in runners [a.k.a. sneakers or trainers].” - Fred Nguyen, De Danaan (Western Canada):)

“Wear them all day long -- to sleep if you must! I've heard of people putting bags of water in the shoes, then freezing them but I'd rather have the shoe expand with my foot, not a bag of water…" - S.J. Velasquez, Irish dancer and Feis America on Irish Central blogger (RincePop!)

“Practice!” - Julie Ann Showalter, ADCRG, World Academy (Indiana)

“Put boiling water in them for a minute, pour the water out, and then immediately put your feet in the shoes… the leather gets bendable and stretchable!” - Tyler Schwartz, World Champion, Trinity Academy of Irish Dance (Illinois)

Put them in boiling hot water and a little oil for an hour then put straight on your feet and dance in them. NO blisters !” - Mitchell Hodges, Broesler (Maryland/New Jersey/New York)

“Treat them with a baseball-glove softener like Hot Glove and warm them in the oven for 4 minutes.”- Bill Bennett, Bennett School of Irish Dance (Colorado)

“Funny story about breaking in hard shoes with the Hot Glove-and-bake treatment. Once upon a time, a shoe company in Arkansas decided to make the only US-made hard shoes I'm aware of, Kelleys. One of our dancers bought a pair and subjected them to the Hot Glove-and-bake treatment. Turned out the adhesive for the toe puffs had a lower melting point than the oven temperature. I phoned the company to tell them. The very polite Arkansas lady at the other end of the line took a moment and then asked, "Why would you put your shoes in an oven?"

“Dance in them and wear them outside on the pavement.” - Michela Summa, Bremer School (Massachusetts)

“To be able to go up on the toes you need to check how flexible the arch is... If it is not flexible enough you need to stretch the leather on both sides of the laces. Wearing the hard shoes and extending your feet to keep toes straight will do that . To soften the heel, heat the back of the shoe above the heel. Rubbing both sides of it will do this. Also, sitting the shoes in front of the fire will help. Make sure the dancer is wearing the shoes when heating the heel and front as the shoe will then mold around the foot. You don’t need to keep the heat on too long as the leather will become too loose.- Stephen Pepper, Irish Dancing Core Strength & Conditioning

"Steam them near the shower (NOT in the shower) and put them on while still warm and damp, and leave on 'til they dry! Also, try Hot Glove treatment found at sporting goods stores. It's made for baseball gloves but works on hard shoes too!" - Theresa Shaffer Wilkinson, TCRG, Dunleavy-Shaffer School (Massachusetts)


There are bound to be some blisters, so avoid some of the tears and take this advice from someone who has had more than her share, Open Champion Mairead Early of the McLoughlin School of Irish Dance: "Try wrapping your toes with pre-wrap and medical tape, and use baby powder on your feet to avoid moisture. Keep Band-Aids on hand!"

How do YOU break in new shoes? What do you do with the old ones? Does your school resell used shoes? Is one brand easier to break in than another? Comment please!

Note: These personal experiences and suggestions are listed for informational purposes only. Be sure to take care of your shoes as recommended by the shoe manufacturer and always defer to your teacher’s directions. Feis America on Irish Central makes no representations as to the appropriateness, safety or compliance of the information conveyed here. Good luck!


For fabulous Irish dancing event coverage, photos, articles, fiction and more, subscribe to Feis America, North America's favorite Irish dancing magazine! Back issues available NOW available in digital format!


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