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On Sept. 14, ABC's Dancing With the Stars kicked off its 29th season. Now sure, most of us didn't probably have this premiere marked off on our calendar, but if you happened to be a sneakerhead who tuned in (this is a judgment free zone, we promise) then you may have noticed Nelly (aka Yung Swivel) laced up a pair of "Playoff" Air Jordan XIs to dance the salsa to his 2000 hit "Ride Wit Me."
Similar the NBA coming out against a young Michael Jordan for his black and red shoes, the judges banned the multi-platinum rapper's footwear of choice. But did you really think that was gonna stop Nelly, a man who has a song about Air Force 1s, from finding a loophole to wear some sneakers? Rather than trade in his Air Jordans for dancing shoes, he decided to call up Dominic Ciambrone (aka Shoe Surgeon) to turn his Air Jordans into dancing shoes. He hit the dance floor the following week to dance the cha cha in a pair of "Black Cement" Air Jordan IIIs with a modified dancing heel. And of course, Twitter had a field day and got a good laugh out of it. He doubled-down the following episode with "Space Jam" XIs cobbled to include a similar heel.
We caught up with Ciambrone to discuss how the polarizing dancing shoes came to be, his thoughts on social media's reaction to their television debut, and more. Check out the full interview below.
How did you first connect with Nelly?
Nelly hit me direct a couple years ago for the "Animal Pack" we released. I grew up listening to Nelly and I’m grateful for the opportunity that he hit me up. It’s amazing to see the artists I’ve followed who have helped shift my life reach out to me so I can do the same. At the end of the day, we are both artists, and although Nelly makes music and I make shoes, we both are in the business of helping change lives. That’s what music is about and that’s my goal with my art too.
How did this project come about?
He called me on a Friday saying he needed my help making dance shoes. I wasn’t sure what to think. I was thinking like, "This guy is crazy, he wants dress-shoe Jordans.” Then I realized I’m crazy too and I can actually make a crazy idea come to life.
How much do they cost?
Our made-to-order [pairs] run around $4,000+. It really comes down to the design, materials, development that goes into each project, and the timeline we need to execute it by as every pair is handcrafted in L.A.
What was Nelly's reaction when he first received them? Have you talked to him since he debuted on TV?
Well, we’ve done two pairs so far and are working on more. He liked them. They worked for what he needed them for. We talk regularly about how they function and what they should look like.
Can you detail the process? Was it challenging having to turn an Air Jordan into a functioning dancing shoe?
The process is unique. And this project really took me back to my shoe repair days with Daryl Fazio in Windsor, California. My thought process for something like this is how do I make it the most functional, then how can I make it look good. I wanted the sneaker to flex and move like a dress shoe, so I had to take off the rubber outsole and rebuild the insole with a shank, then add the chrome dance sole and a heel. I wrapped the sidewall with leather and pulled it under to give it shape. I’m grateful for my team that helped put our heads together to make it happen. I couldn’t do this alone.
I did something similar for Odell Beckham Jr. for Baker Mayfields’ wedding so he could dance.
What made this project different in comparison to some of your other work?
This project was different because it took me back to what I learned in shoe repair. This was really about him dancing well in this shoe, not just slapping dancing chrome suede on the bottom of a rubber sole. I really thought about how I can help him dance better.
Will there be a different pair for each episode?
We will see. We are working on a few things, but everything is last minute. But we work well under pressure. We just gotta keep elevating. My goal is to help Nelly win. We have become teammates and I want to see my teammate win.
Have you noticed the reaction the shoe has gotten on social media?
I didn’t realize or predict the noise it would create. I was purely helping Nelly fulfill a need. I like to deliver my unique ability to clients in need of solving a problem. I usually have solutions for all problems.
Do you pay attention to some of the negative comments?
I don’t think this shoe looks aesthetically pleasing. I know what it looks like. So I understand the comments. But this shoe brings me to a place of ease. And reminds me of my past learning from taking shoes apart in a garage to learning shoe repair. The negativity is well received. I turned the shoe around in two days. Concept to completion. That’s unheard of. This shoe was truly about functionality and serving a purpose to get my boy’s feet right. He likes sneakers, so we converted them into a high quality dress shoe.
I enjoy all of the comments. And this one truly gave me happiness and inner peace. Do I think the shoe can be designed better? Yes, I always strive for better. Whether it’s how it’s made, how it’s designed, durability, etc. I’m always looking and finding ways to make something better.