Where Stars and Competitive Dancers Shop for Shoes in NY

Where Stars and Competitive Dancers Shop for Shoes in NY


When Broadway princesses need new glass slippers, they turn to Worldtone Dance, the city’s go-to place for theatrical and dancesport shoes.

“Our clients spend an average of 90 minutes trying on shoes,” said the owner, Lani Spear, 48, whose parents started Worldtone. More Photos »

“I was thrilled to get to do the shoe for ‘Cinderella,’ ” said the store’s owner, Lani Spear, who recently outfitted the Broadway revival of the fairy tale musical. Other clients have included “Jersey Boys,” “Rock of Ages,” “Smash” and “Dancing with the Stars” ? and the list goes on.

Perched above two gift shops at 580 Eighth Avenue, in the theater district, with a small sign and star-shaped paper lanterns in the windows, the store relies on customers who already know where they’re headed.

The elevator opens onto a carpeted showroom with more than 500 styles of dance shoes on simple shelves under track lighting. Autographed posters adorn the white walls, and an eclectic mix of dance-friendly music plays in the background. The spacious room has a white tile dance floor, 6 feet by 9 feet, and large windows that look out on a dance studio across the street.

The space is new ? Worldtone moved from Chelsea to Midtown in November. But the business goes back to 1969, when Ms. Spear’s parents, Kenneth and Nomi Spear, dance teachers who met dancing, launched an international folk dance record label. In 1974, they moved the retail operation from their Queens basement to Manhattan and began selling dance footwear, which eventually became the bread and butter of the business.

“I grew up there,” Ms. Spear, 48, said of the original location on Seventh Avenue. She has built up the theatrical part of the business since she took over nearly 10 years ago, but most sales still come from dancesport, a broad category of competitive and social partner dance that includes the waltz, the tango, the fox trot, swing, salsa, the cha-cha and many others.

In 2006, Ms. Spear opened a shop in Los Angeles, which allowed for new opportunities in television. Worldtone can customize shoes and also designs its own lines from scratch.

“These are athletic shoes disguised as sexy, high-heel shoes,” she said as Pico, her Yorkiepoo, sat on her lap. “When you see the workout people do in these shoes, you’ll understand why they need the right one.”

On a recent Saturday, as the afternoon sun flooded into the showroom, a steady stream of dancesport enthusiasts came searching for the right shoe ? out of the 14,000 pairs in stock.

One was Haley O’Berrigan, 17, who had come with her mother from Montclair, N.J., to get a pair of Supadance brand shoes for an international Latin competition.

“These are nice,” she told her mother as she took some steps on the dance floor, doing a few pivots. She then stood in front of the mirror, examining the line of her leg and the gold shoe.

“You want your shoes to be good enough so that when you’re dancing you have faith in them,” she said.

Across the room, Nancy Radke, 60, who was in town from Syracuse for a wedding, was gleefully making her way through a stack of shoe boxes, with her daughter and son-in-law’s assistance. She and her husband took up dance a few years ago, she said, and they have been hooked since.

“When I come to New York City,” she said, “I have to come here because it’s the only place I can try on dance shoes like this.”

Toward the end of the day, as Pico mingled with customers, Alice Chiang, 23, an N.Y.U. graduate student who lives in Midwood, Brooklyn, was helping her friend, Patricia Chan, 25, decide on shoes. On her most recent visit, Ms. Chiang said, she had spent two hours.

“I was trying shoe after shoe after shoe,” she said. “It’s like Harry Potter finding a magic wand. Suddenly you know ? this is it!”