A Lesson Learned from Nike

Originally published on November 18th, 2015, at Medium.com.
Republished at Sharonda.net on March 23rd, 2017.

Last night, my wife was complaining to me about a pair of Nike shoes that she’s owned for several years. She likes the shoes, she said, except that their sole pattern doesn’t have much tread, so they don’t provide enough traction.

Her liking them despite that deficiency is reasonable, too. I realized that as soon as I got my hands on them. They aren’t remarkable to look at. They’re low-top shoes. They’re white and a pale, khaki-tinged grey. Cute, but visually dull. The opposite of what Nike tends to market these days. But they have a nicely-padded, silky tongue. They have Nike Air cushioning. They have elastic bands that run from that tongue into the footbed, keeping the shoes comfortably in place. They have a thickly-padded counter with small, rubbery dots inside to help keep the heel from slipping.

She was right about the outsole, though: It has very little tread, at all. The forefoot pivot point isn’t round, and it’s not where an old school, Nike basketball shoe aficionado like myself would expect that point to be. There are some radiating lines here and there, but what tread is there seems shallow, and the sole, overall, is far smoother than either of us thought that it should be.

It also has one long channel running down the middle, from front to back, which made me think that maybe it was a walking shoe. But a walking shoe with very little tread? I trust Nike more than that.

I trust Google, too.

A quick search for the primary piece (i.e., the part before the hyphen) of the style number on the tongue tags, and we found the problem: These shoes are dancing shoes. They were designed and marketed with hip-hop dancing, in particular, in mind. Those electric bands from tongue to footbed were put there so that the shoe would stay on, even with the laces loosened and untied (as was the style, I seem to recall, when I was young enough to care more about style than I care about falling). The small, rubbery dots inside the padded heel counter help to serve the same purpose.

And that too-smooth sole? It’s there because even hipping and hopping are easier without the sort of treads designed to grip floors and streets and earth and to keep you firmly grounded.

The “problem”, it seems, isn’t with the shoes, at all, or even with the sole.

The problem is that neither my wife nor I ever learned to dance.

The problem is not seeing soles—no matter how you spell it—for what they really are.