Monday, November 5, 2007


Phil LaDuca has taken many steps in his twenty-six year career. As a performer he has danced on Broadway for Agnes de Mille in Brigadoon, and played the understudy for the Gene Kelly role in Singin' in the Rain.

He has toured nationally and internationally with Richard Harris in Camelot and Ann Reinking with the American Dance Machine. As a choreographer and teacher he has worked all over the world. But when LaDuca wanted a "venue" for his latest production he settled in Clinton. This time instead of wearing dance shoes LaDuca sells and designs them.

In the wake of September 11th, LaDuca, a gutsy twenty-year Clinton resident who hails from Chicago, opened his store, LaDuca Shoes, on Ninth Avenue near 40th street, on a gritty block south of the bus terminal.

Success did not come easy for LaDuca. It took plenty of footwork, He trudged from stage door to stage door selling his shoes out of a large canvas bag.

"Dancers have supported me. I am where I am today because of them," LaDuca said. "I started from scratch. I had no partners. I put up $20,000 of my own money."

His clientele reads like a "Who’s Who" of show business - Chita Rivera, Eddie Murphy, Michael Crawford, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Uma Thurman, and Meryl Streep along with the casts of Broadway hits Mamma Mia, Spring Awakening, and Hairspray, and the film Chicago.

His decision to design shoes happened fairly quickly. After teaching a ballroom workshop in Germany a dancer asked LaDuca "Why don't you design a dance shoe." He replied " I am a dancer and not a designer but the thought lingered.

"Dancers are athletes. They run, jump, dance on tables, do somersaults and everything you can imagine. Their feet take severe abuse and pounding. I understood the need for a flexible but sturdy shoe," he said. He took his etchings to Italy in search of a factory to make his shoes.

Amy York, a Radio City Rockette, and a customer, as are many of her co-dancers said, "They're soft, light. You can point your feet so effortlessly."

LaDuca, who designs the shoes at his store, is constantly on the phone with Italy cajoling them to stick to his specifications. "They are expert shoe makers but I taught them how to make shoes for dancers."

The owners and workers are third generation. The factory produces only 250 pairs of shoes a day for all its clients, of which LaDuca is the biggest. Twenty-three people work on each shoe which is made of soft, Italian leather.

“Craftsmanship is very much part of their heritage. They take great pride in their work,” he said.

LaDuca likes the diversity and history of Clinton. Many theater posters, signed celebrity photos, and shoes decorate his shop, but a gold framed black and white photo is the first thing LaDuca showed a visitor. Dated 1978, it shows LaDuca 's shop, when it was the Castelli Meat Market and Groceria.

"Castelli's son gave it to me. Their family owned this store for generations before they moved." LaDuca said. "He told me the area was in decline then and many Italian shops closed. Now it's good to see one come back." LaDuca is proud he is that one.

•••LaDuca Shoes has moved. The new address is 319 West 47th Street. Phone  (212) 586-2079)