What the Heel?

So lately a topic that has been all the chatter over the swing dance online community is a post by Sarah Breck on women wearing heels while dancing on the website Dax and herself share at DaxandSarah.com and a response why not to wear heels by Fenn at her blog shortgirlphoto.blogspot (Edit: Apparently Fenn decided to delete her blog post, but google cache has a version she edited before deleting the post. Link).

Even yehoodi has seemed to take notice in the topics To Heel or Not to Heel and Sarah Breck on Why Women Should Wear Heels.

Logical Fallacies

Just as a background, for my major Computer Science I do an upsetting amount of proofs. Also just when I think I am done with them… they come up again. In my algorithms class, my discrete mathematics class, and now again my automata and finite states class.

When I read or listen to people debate I usually don’t care about the emotional content of their arguments (which gets me into trouble a lot) but the facts they lay out.

What bothered me about the blogged response to Sarah’s post is this issue, Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Ridicule.

Fenn writes,

Today, I found this post in my facebook newsfeed. I was confused, because I thought I had read the title wrong. Surely, a dancer couldn’t be ENCOURAGING women to wear heels. I went over and read it, and my confusion was cleared…to anger. The writer says that women should wear heels because it’ll improve their dance skills.



Capslock is NOT cruise control for cool.


This could have been written simply as, “Today I found this post in my facebook newsfeed. I was unpleasantly surprised by the fact that the author was encouraging women to wear heels which I think does not improve ones dancing at all and in fact can be detrimental to their health. ”

Same effect, but does not come off as horribly condescending and hostile.


I don’t have a background in podiatry nor have I spent long periods of time wearing heels so I am not going to comment on the validity if one should not wear heels or not. However what I argue against is the way Fenn presents them. Sarah’s main point her article or (the premise being argued against) of why she wears heels is,

“Because they help keep me in check. I feel like I become a better and stronger dancer when I wear them”

Fenn’s counter-points are:

  1. Shoes don’t improve your feet’s ability to do anything.
  2. Heels will damage your body over time.
  3. They are not necessary for any dances.
  4. Swing dancers don’t spend enough time strengthening their feet like other classically trained dancers do.

I would like to note that Sarah does not write anywhere heels are required for dance. Automatically points 3 and 4 do nothing to argue against the premise that Fenn is attempting to counter.

Point 1 I have a strong issue with because it disregards the fact of something we know and love known as physics.

There is this thing known as friction: the resistance encountered when one body is moved in contact with another.

Can I do slides without shoes? Yes. Will I get much more distance with a pair of slick shoes then barefoot? Yes.

Since Fenn seems so eager to bring up Balboa, here is a move from it known as the Maxie Slide. Named after the late Maxie Dorf.

With the exception of someone who does not have a good sense of balance, I can promise nearly every lead can get more distance with that slide with a pair of slick leather soles/suede then their bare feet.

In addition, some dance venues are not the safest places to go barefoot. As someone who has danced barefoot for an international dance troupe for almost 2 years (Penn State International Dance Ensemble) I know how much it can hurt when someone leaves stuff on our practice space. Imagine the possibilities of foot damage at half the venues across the United States.

Point 2 is the only valid argument I see in the whole response to Sarah’s article. However there is no references cited and I am left to rely on Fenn’s personal credibility, which is greatly reduced in my eyes in the extremely condescending manner that the arguments are presented and the extraneous irrelevant points that are raised.

In short, I agree with arguecat that…

Damn straight Arguecat.

17 thoughts on “What the Heel?

  1. Totally agree here. The whole argument of the article seems to be “Lindy Hoppers suck and don’t know anything.” I also agree with Ellen’s comment pointing out the total contradiction between the statements:

    “Shoes don’t improve your feet’s ability to do anything.”


    “I dance … sometimes in my cowboy boots, which are really great for balboa. They have just enough heel to place my weight as they like it and perfect slide.”

    Uhhh….. Sounds like she thinks her shoes are helping her out some…

  2. The whole argument is silly/a bit blown out of proportion. Sarah made a post about what sounded like a personal experience that she wanted to relate to the community. She does have a lot of influence as a professional performer and instructor, but the response made her sound like an awful, irresponsible person for even suggesting that heels are good for dancing. That overly harsh criticism quells the free expression that communities need to thrive. Generalizing about the ignorance of Lindy Hoppers does nothing positive, either for the credibility of the author or for the betterment of any community.
    Constructive criticism should be encouraged and accepted, while vitriolic harsh criticism looks like nothing more than argument for the sake of dissent.

  3. Well put. I like logic, and I love the Arguecat.

    I am posting about men, leather soles, and how it can help leads etc. Just adding more fuel to sarah’s little bond fire. Fenn & Friends really blew any hope at making a point when they unnecessarily aggressive and blew things completely out of proportion.

  4. As a one-time student of rhetorical communication, Fenn’s argument lacks credibility on many points. Without specific expertise, rhetorical criticism can help determine who has a more trustworthy argument.

    Both the blog post and Fenn’s reply and blog post lack credibility on whether there heels are medically beneficial, detrimental or neutral. Damon’s followup to Fenn brings credible argument by suggesting some direct knowledge from an expert.

    Fenn’s language attempts to evoke a negative emotional response through expletives, unnecessary use of all-caps.

    The Alvin Ailey clip Fenn links to introduces a red herring to the argument in that it neither supports nor contradicts either assertion (that heels are beneficial or detrimental) to a swing dancer’s health.

    Fenn does graze some points about strengthening feet and improving flexibility but those relevant and potentially valuable points are lost after attempting to prove Sarah wrong by berating opinion.

    I see Sarah’s opinion as inviting and something worth exploring to seek more information. She doesn’t present a enough evidence to definitively say heels are better but that they may help with certain functional and aesthetic aspects of the dance. Fenn’s assertions are just hostile, dismissive and easy to dismiss lacking ethos and substance.

  5. Good post addressing the arguements in Finn’s response. I will add that counter point #2 does not address Sarah’s point either. Sarah made no claim to the medical benefits of wearing heels and in fact says that dancers should continue to wear both in order to take care of their feet. Namely to say that heels will damage your feet over time does not address whether it is harmful to wear them over a short time. Further it implies that any possible damage to your feet should override, your decision to wear heels. Sarah’s post was smaller in scope to talk about the beneficial parts of wearing heels and left it to the reader to decide on when and where. It is too funny that such a good observation has caused such a dialogue.

    1. I’ll second the thanks for the logic and another place to respond – the hostility in the comments on Sarah’s blog and in Fenna’s post left the reader with the feeling that commenting would only get you thrown into the thick of an argument.

      Further, all caps is definitely not cool. Let’s use our inside voices instead of yelling at people via typewritten message.

    2. My goodness, yes, re: Sarah’s observation igniting such dialogue. I do think most of the dialogue was generated in response to Fenn’s blog post about it; inflammatory posts tend to get much greater response than calm ones.

  6. As a multi-dancer (someone who knows a bit about most dances), I think it is especially important to consider the frame and style of the dance before analyzing foot wear. Fenn knocked ballroom dancers for wearing heels, but I have to say: when I dance smooth dances, my heel is raised almost constantly, whether or not I even have shoes on. I find it more comfortable to dance ballroom in heels because that extra lift causes my feet and legs to be less fatigued. I am not as familiar with proper technique in Lindy, but I also prefer a heel in Lindy (about 1.5″) because I found it difficult to go from 3″ heels to flats. (That’s obviously just my personal preference). I am curious what other dancers think, though: Does the frame of the body in Lindy call for a certain heel? (For example, in Ballroom, I stay on the balls of my feet to move my center forward to create a joined center with my lead. )

    1. I would say that it’s a bit of…to achieve a certain look or style of movement the shoes can definitely play a role. Balboa, like Ballroom, calls for the followers center to be more consistently forward, which is why you see so many Bal follows dancing and competing in heels. I’m also thinking about toe shoes v. ballet shoes – Fenna made some sort of statement to the effect of dancers should dance in ballet shoes, but even within the ballet discipline, there are soft ballet shoes and toe shoes, both of which achieve very different things in terms of movement, abilities and limitations in each, how it affects your body, and how you look dancing in them. Perhaps heels are the toe shoes of swing dancing? Not the greatest for your feet, but the shoe that shifts your balance and movement to something different and, perhaps, more elongating than the flatter counterparts.

      1. I think that lines are a huge part of dancing, and definitely something to consider when considering shoe choices. And, let’s face it: a heel creates a much prettier line than a flat. Also, I just looked on the Aris Allen website to grab an example pic, and in all the flat shoes pictures that I looked at, the model has her feet in a vertical pointed position. Check it out: http://www.dancestore.com/Aris-Allen-Retro-Seventies-Bowling-Swing-Shoes/productinfo/2093-TN/

  7. Great post. Thank you so much for using simple logic to elucidate the arguments of both sides. It makes it a lot easier to see which ideas deserve consideration and which are just… well, invalid.

  8. I feel that although the way each side could have presented could be much improved. That the extremes that both posts seem to present are valid in their own respect. Each person is different in many ways, venues are different as far as flooring, and many other considerations need to be taken into play. As an instructor I realize that even if I am wanting to wear my favorite shoes, they are not necessarily the best shoes for a specific situation or floor. I believe that if anyone is wanting to try out shoes and is truly concerned with the health of their feet, they should consult a professional (pending it is financially viable) and find out what will work best for them as an individual.

    In some regards the amount of attention the debate got was because of the amount of loud that came into it. To me, this is a great thing to have a long discussion about.

    So even though Sarah’s article seems to say “Hey, think about trying this out for a few months, it has totally helped my dancing”

    and Fenn’s “Listen people, this isn’t right don’t do it”

    strays away from common ground. If you want to know for sure what is best for you, I think doing your homework yourself can be a great way to start. It sounds like a lot more people are doing their own hjomework, so knowledge and education on a very important topic (taking care of your body and making sure permanent damage doesn’t come from what we do)

  9. Heya just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.

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