The best shoes for tango
Post date: Aug 19, 2014 3:13:42 AM
As an instructor of Argentine tango I am acutely aware of the crucial role that the correct shoes play in learning and dancing tango. New students often ask me what footwear they should wear to tango classes. Here's my response...
There are three options:
Wear your most-suitable-for-tango normal shoes
Get some specialised tango shoes
Socks is an option
At the start of your tango journey, socks may be the best or only tool at your disposal, and you may not be sufficiently 'hooked' into tango to want to invest in specialised shoes.
Socks are a reasonable option as they allow your feet to make good contact with the floor, and allow some pivoting, particularly socks of synthetic materials. The use of foot deodorant spray is recommended if wearing socks in classes! The big downside of socks is that they offer little protection from misplaced heels and stilettos!
Most-suitable-for-tango normal shoes
You may already have some shoes that can be used for tango, with relative success, until you secure some specialised tango shoes.
The most important part of the shoe to consider is the sole. The sole should be made of material that allows easy turning. Too much traction, particularly during pivots, will cause fatigue and may cause serious injury. Avoid soles that grip the floor, e.g., rubber or textured soles. Leather or suede soles are recommended.
Tango shoes have light, thin soles, making it easy to pick up your feet, to move precisely with your feet, and to dance for long periods without fatigue. To dance tango you need to be able to glide elegantly and lightly along the floor. Avoid heavy, thick soled shoes, such as as flamenco or tap shoes, as these will weigh your feet down.
Avoid heavy thick soles like these. Source: http://static.heels.com
An important and obvious consideration is how well the shoe fits and contains your foot. Avoid shoes that are open backed, such as sandals or thongs. You need to concentrate on your dance moves, not on keeping your feet from falling out of your shoes! The shoes should be close fitting without cutting your circulation, or causing cramps. Similarly, the shoes should not be too loose. Make sure that you do not slide inside the shoe.
The ideal shoe will fit your foot like a glove. Choose shoes that have minimal rims or pointed toes. These will get in the way of your dancing and increase the likelihood of foot collisions.
My female students often ask whether they should wear high heels to class. My reply is that the size of heel is less important than the the material of the sole. If you have to decide between a heeled shoe with sticky soles and flat shoes with smooth soles opt for the latter. If you have too suitably soled shoes, one flat, and one heeled - go with the latter. Heels do help with pivoting. However, this also depends on the height of the heel, and how comfortable you already are with walking in heels.
Flat shoes are an option for followers. source: http://tangobreath.com
Specialised Tango shoes
If you continue with tango make sure you get some shoes designed for tango dancing. It will add considerably to the enjoyment, look and feel of your tango. For older people, anyone with knee problems, and anyone wanting maximum pivot with minimum effort - specialised tango shoes are essential.
The first consideration is whether you prefer leather or suede for the sole. The latter is often referred to as 'chromo' or 'cromo' in Argentina. The main difference is that suede tends to have more grip than leather. So if you dance on very slippery floors, suede can be a ideal. If you dance on fairly rough or sticky floors, suede may be too grippy, and leather will be preferable.
Then consider what material you would like the uppers of your shoes to be made from. Tango shoes themselves are normally made either from leather or suede. Suede is the most flexible of all tango shoe materials and is highest on the comfort scale. It is however less durable than leather and requires more maintenance.
There are different types of leather with varying degrees of flexibility. Leather tends to be less flexible than suede but easier to maintain and more durable. Patent leather (shiny leather) is my least preferred material as patent leather shoes have a tendency to stick together. When you and your partner are both wearing patent leather the problem is doubled! The application of petroleum jelly to patent leather shoes stops them sticking but, ladies, this is to be avoided (for obvious reasons) if you like doing ornaments like 'lustradas' (shoe shines)!
For the more flamboyant - tango shoes also come in different material fabrics, such as animal prints and glitter surfaces. These materials will stretch less than leather or suede.
Specifically for Followers
The main difference for ladies between tango shoes and regular shoes is that the former have special heels. Being high, they still have to enable posture with safety, and good support and stability for the heel.
Choose the height of the heel carefully. Beginners may not want to start with a heel that is too high. High heels can be more flattering to the legs, but taller women may prefer shorter heels, so as not to tower over their partners.
With higher heels, your feet tend to slip forward so shoes should have good padding at the balls of the feet and toes.
Another issue is the front of the shoe. There are three choices for women when it comes to the front of the shoe: open-toe, peep-toe, or closed-toe. The fashion, particularly for younger women, is for shoes that are open in the front.
My preference is for open-toed tango shoes as I enjoy the feeling of free toes when dancing. The toes play a huge role in balance. The disadvantage of open-toed shoes is that there is less protection for your toes. The big advantage of closed-toe is that they offer greater protection against the inevitable, occasional collision of feet. For this reason, at classes you may prefer to use closed toe shoes.
Another issue for women is the strap of the shoe. There are several choices as to where and how the strap is placed:
quite high across the ankle
two straps criss-crossing over the ankle.
low down (similar to a Mary Jane)
a single asymmetric strap, going from the instep to the outside ankle.
Having a preference for shoes that feel very stable and secure on the feet, I prefer the first two options. Try them all out and find out which you prefer.
Yet another variable to consider is the heel cage. These can be either completely closed or open, i.e., sling-backs. Whilst the latter are very popular and fashionable, I prefer the stability of a closed heel cage.
I recommend the following test for any tango shoes that you intend to purchase:
before wearing the shoes observe them placed on the floor - they should appear balanced and not wobble.
walk backwards in the shoes (you'll be doing a lot of that!)
stand on one foot and make sure that you feel secure and grounded - the heel needs to be situated squarely under the heel of the foot.
pivot on one foot on each shoe - make sure that the shoes hold well when you pivot.
Make sure that your feet are not swollen when trying on shoes for purchase.
Insoles can also be used if your shoes are slightly too big for your feet, and to provide greater comfort and bounce.
To lengthen the life of your tango shoes and to not make the sole rough or sticky, make sure that you don't wear your tango shoes outside. Carry your shoes in a protective bag to and from dance classes or milongas.
Where to Buy
Buenos Aires is the ideal place to buy tango shoes due to the plethora of retailers. It's a veritable mecca for people with a tango shoe fetish! Due to the current very favourable currency exchange rate for the Australian dollar you will buy shoes there for much less than what you would pay in Australia.
If you aren't intending to visit Buenos Aires in the near future, tango shoes can be purchased at retail outlets in Sydney or online. A list of retailers can be found in the SoTango Links Page.
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