Character shoes are among the unsung heroes of musical theatre. They are comfortable, versatile footwear that make a dancer look great without distracting from her form. Practically invisible, they show off her moves and give her the flexibility and support to do any number of choreographic combinations. In other words, they help a hoofer hoof.
Add small metal plates beneath the ball of the foot and under the heel and you have tap shoes.
If a show’s budget allows, a designer might dress chorus dancers in custom-made footwear in a color and style to match the rest of their outfits. But if that’s not possible, sensible character shoes can do the trick.
Performers often wear character shoes during auditions to be ready in case the director invites them to go into their dance. And they look a lot more professional than sandals or tennis shoes.
But don’t try to wear a pair of character shoes on a stroll through town or out in the rain. They are built especially for performing on wooden stages, with leather uppers and soles (real or synthetic). So they don’t do well on concrete or asphalt. Take off the character shoes and lace up a pair of sneakers for the walk home.
–With thanks to Ben Pesner and the TDF Theatre Dictionary Series (As Executive Director of Arts Boston, Larry Murray worked with TDF to enlarge theatre audiences from the late 70's to the early 90's.)