top of page

Heels Dance: from burlesque to Beyoncé and beyond

Updated: Aug 28

In this post you'll discover:

 

Heels dance class for adults: five dancers wearing high heels and smiling
Dancers from Heels Dance class at Dragonfly Dance

Back in the 1980s, when I went to the cinema to see A Chorus Line, I marveled at the dancers’ ability to dance and leap in high heels. But dancing in heels had been around a long time, including in the early 1900s in the performance of showgirls and burlesque stars, and even as far back as the court dancing of Louis IX. Fast forward to the early 2000s, and dancing in heels had become not just the realm of Broadway chorus dancers, but a dance genre in its own right.


In the last 20 years, Heels dance (sometimes called ‘Stiletto Dance’ or ‘Sensual Dance’) has taken the world by storm. I vividly remember the first time I saw Yanis Marshall, Arnaud and Mehdi perform Beyoncé’s Single Ladies in heels back in 2014. But it was perhaps Beyoncé herself in Crazy in Love in 2003 that may have catapulted this genre into the limelight.


In this blog post, you’ll learn what Heels dance is, its origins and history, and what to expect in a Heels class.


'Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)'' by Beyoncé feaetures amazing Heels choreography


What is Heels Dance?

Heels dance class for adults: dancer dressed in black posing in high heeled boots
Heels Dance teacher at Dragonfly Dance, Diana Scalzi

Heels dance is a popular form of dance that involves wearing high-heeled shoes while performing. It has gained significant popularity in the commercial dance world, with many music videos and live performances incorporating it into their routines.


While the ideal shoe is a stiletto, all kinds of high heeled shoes can be worn. But just putting on a pair of high heels and dancing doesn’t make it ‘Heels dance’. Heels has its own technique, flavour, style, and history. It includes the attitude of hip hop and commercial dance, lines of jazz and ballroom dance, mixed with Latin dances like tango, salsa, and mambo, and a sprinkle of showgirl and go-go dancing, and some sauciness from burlesque and pole dancing.


The dance style is all about expressing oneself through movement while feeling confident, sexy, and in control. Dancers incorporate high kicks, turns, and other intricate footwork while maintaining their balance and poise in their heels. Moreover, body movement is also essential in heels dance, with hip pops, sally walks, floor-ography, and hair-ography.


One of the most notable aspects of Heels dance is its emphasis on empowerment and self-expression. Many dancers use it as a way to embrace their femininity and assert their independence, both on and off the dance floor. The style has also become a popular means of self-expression and celebration of identity among members of the LGBTQ+ community.


The popularity of this style can be attributed to its focus on self-expression and feminine empowerment. Women (and men) of all ages, shapes, and sizes can participate in Heels dance, making it an inclusive and empowering dance form. Many dancers find that the style is empowering and helps them to feel more confident and sexy.




Origins, history and Evolution of Heels Dance


Early origins


As mentioned earlier, the origins of Heels dance can be traced back to the early 20th century, when it was popularized by burlesque and showgirl dancers. Over the years, the style has evolved and been influenced by various other dance styles and choreographers, resulting in the development of new techniques and styles.


The early 1900s saw the emergence of burlesque and vaudeville shows, where showgirl dancers would perform in high heels as part of their routine. These dancers were known for their sensual and seductive movements, which involved a lot of hip and leg movements. One of the most famous showgirl dancers of this era was Sally Rand, who popularized the fan dance and the bubble dance, both of which involved dancing in high heels.


In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, hip hop and street dance became popular, and with it came a new style of heels dance that incorporated hip hop and street elements into the traditional jazz dance. This new style of dance was characterized by its heavy beats, popping, and locking movements, and required a lot of strength and stamina. Heels quickly gained popularity among women who wanted to add a touch of femininity to their dance style.


In the early years, the dance form was mostly performed by women, but in recent years, men have also started incorporating it into their dance routines. Famous choreographers of this era include Laurie Ann Gibson, who is credited with developing the heels dance style, and Brian Friedman, who is known for his work with pop stars like Britney Spears and Beyoncé.


In the 1990s, music videos became increasingly popular and featured female artists wearing high heels while dancing. In the early 2000s, Heels dance was initially referred to as “sensual dance”, and has risen in popularity with the rise of music videos and social media, particularly on platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Tik Tok.


Influential Heels Choreographers


Many influential Heels choreographers have emerged over the years, each bringing their own unique style to the genre. Here are just a few of the most well-known:


Yanis Marshall: Yanis is a French choreographer known for his high-energy and fierce heels dance routines. He has worked with a number of popular artists, including Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.


Jojo Gomez: Jojo is a Los Angeles-based choreographer who has worked with many popular artists, including Justin Bieber and Tinashe. She is known for her sultry and sensual dance style.


Brian Friedman: Brian is a veteran choreographer who has worked with a number of popular artists, including Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. He is known for his edgy and high-energy dance routines.




What to expect in a Heels dance class


If you're interested in trying out Heels dance, there are many classes available both online and in-person. Here are some things to expect in a typical heels dance class.


Class format


Warm-Up: Most Heels dance classes start with a warm-up to get your body ready for the high-energy routines ahead. This might include stretching, cardio, and strength exercises.


Technique: In a Heels dance class, you will learn various techniques such as walking, turning, and posing in high heels, as well as body rolls, turns, and floorwork.


Attitude: You'll also work on developing your confidence and stage presence, as heels dance is often performed in front of an audience.


Choreography: The bulk of a Heels dance class will be spent learning a choreographed routine set to music. The routine will incorporate various dance styles, and the choreography will be designed to showcase the power and beauty of dancing in high heels.


Shoes: Dancers are encouraged to wear high-heeled shoes to the class, although it's not necessary for beginners. It's important to note that the focus of a heels class is not on how high the heels are or how well you can walk in them but on how you can use them to enhance your movements and express yourself.


Heels dance welcomes both men and women. While the dance form was initially popularized by women, many men have started incorporating it into their dance routines, and it has become a way for them to express their creativity and showcase their talent.


Conclusion


Heels dance is a relatively new dance genre in its own right, which has evolved from a variety of different dance genres. It's a style that empowers dancers to express themselves through high-energy movements and sensual, fluid motion. If you're interested in taking a heels dance class, be prepared to have fun, learn new moves, and embrace your confidence and femininity.


How to join a Heels Dance class at Dragonfly Dance


We take new dancers in the first three weeks of each term (which start in January, April, July, and September)

References

CLI Studio (2021) “What is Heels dance?”. Available at https://www.clistudios.com/dance-blog/dance-basics/what-is-heels-dance/ [Accessed 27 February 2023)


Kim, M. (2016). “Yanis Marshall: Man in Heels”. Los Lolos. Available at http://leslolos.com/bossman-innovative-dancer-choreographer-yanis-marshall/2/ [Accessed 28 February 2023].


Ester, M. (2023). “How Heels Dance Became a Wildly Popular—and Welcoming—Style”. Dance Magzine. Available at https://www.dancemagazine.com/heels-dance-popularity/ [Accessed 3 March 2023].


 

Get more tips and information from Dragonfly Dance

Join our mailing list

 

bottom of page