Shoes

The only “kit” you really need for Tango

In any sport you need the correct equipment from the start to stand a chance of learning properly.  How many people would use a tennis racket to take up badminton?  And yet, many people start to learn this elegant dance with heavyweight outdoor shoes, boots or even flip-flops, all of which are totally unsuitable.

But it’s important to get the right shoes, and there’s so much information out there,  it’s worth explaining things in a little more detail for those new to Tango.

Dance shoes are not reserved for the privileged experienced dancer.  Good shoes will increase your enjoyment, give you support, encourage correct posture and balance, reduce the risk of injury and improve your technique.

Gentlemen –  you need to spare a thought for your followers.  If you wear heavy outdoor shoes, you will inevitably step on your partner’s toes, especially in the first few weeks.  Deliberately trying to avoid your lady’s toes often creates the ‘John Wayne’ walk!  All of which undermines your confidence and your ability to learn how to walk with a partner in the salon-style.  Choose carefully a lightweight pair from your wardrobe and once you have decided Tango is for you, invest in dance shoes as soon as possible. 

Ladies – the advice is the same as for the men, invest in a pair of dance shoes as soon as possible.  This is particularly important for when you begin pivoting – ie Ochos.

Choosing a Pair from your Wardrobe
Gentlemen – lightweight and preferably where the sole does not extend further than the upper shoe.  Pointed shoes where the shoe extends beyond the toes are not ideal, as the extra unused shoe gets in the way.

Ladies – a heel would be more preferable to flat pumps, as you will need to elevate onto the ball of your feet.  Your shoe ideally should have a strap across the top and/or ankle so your foot doesn’t rise up inside your shoe.  Chose a pair that is fairly soft and if possible with some flexibility.

Soles – anything other than rubber ie: leather or composite

Style – avoid wedge soles, platforms, slip ons (for ladies) and trainers.  Outdoor boots are not appropriate.

(for more about walking in Tango – click here)

In the UK dancing is rarely outdoors and usually in a hall.  You will encounter a range of floor materials from sprung wooden, laminate, tile, lino etc., so your shoes need to multi-task.   Many of the UK dance floors are used for activities other than dancing, so you have to manage with what you get.  Some will feel ‘sticky’ from food and drink spills, some will be ‘fast’ from being over polished.  Lino, composite or tiles may feel ‘tight’.  If your shoes stick or grip the floor, this resistance will strain your knees and body.  A small amount of talc rubbed onto the sole will resolve this.  (A word of caution – check with the organiser before you liberally sprinkle talc on the floor, as some venues ban the use of talc).  If the floor is too fast, a small dab of water on the sole will stop you sliding.
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Choosing Your First Shoes

Be under no illusion that there are specific tango shoes – it’s down to what works for the individual.  Suitable Tango dance shoes are often called ‘salsa’, ‘Latin’ or ‘Ballroom Latin’.  What matters is they are comfortable, fit and support your feet and work for you technically.  Most good dance shops have an area with a mirror and ballet barre for you to check for the correct fit.  Remember your first pair needs to be comfortable enough to do repetitive class work as well as social dancing.

Soles are a personal preference and the design of the manufacturer.  They  range between suede, leather and composite.  In Buenos Aires manufacturers often favour composite, (known locally as chrome). Their dance floors can be rather poor quality and as they also dance outdoors, the more durable chrome soles may be favoured above leather, and certainly above suede.

Gentlemen – your shoes will come in a variety of widths, heels, with lace-up, velcro fastening or slip-on’s.  Avoid the split heel trainers with thick rubber soles as you will need to be able to feel your lady’s feet through your shoes.

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Ladies – can choose between open toe or closed, variable heel heights and shapes.  The choice is yours, but balance and foot fatigue will be more of a challenge with unfamiliar higher heels.  

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Personality

Choose shoes that you will feel good about wearing.  We have heard both men and women say that they are not a good enough dancer to wear colourful or decorative shoes.  This is nonsense, go for what you feel good about and what works for you. There’s an amazing and delightful choice out there.

Go for lightweight, classic dance shoes, which are flexible and give you a good sense of feel through to the floor. You should feel well grounded and with a good sense of balance.
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Fit

Different manufacturers use their own characteristic ‘lasts’, and it’s important to find which brands suit your foot.

This is more than just being comfortable.  Your outdoor shoe size is only a guide.  The shoe should fit snug around the whole foot to prevent it moving within the shoe. Your foot should not lift inside the shoe when you walk.

Ladies – your foot should not lift when you rise up onto tip-toe.   With open toe shoes your toes should not hang over the edge.  Ideally the shoe should have a strap around the ankle or across the arch of the foot, or both. This will ensure the foot is retained inside the shoe.
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Technique & Balance

Check out your side to side balance at the heel, the ball of the foot and the toe.  Do this with both feet.  

Ladies – as a considerable amount of your dancing is walking backwards – extend the leg back to feel the balance.  Pivot on the ball of each foot, with your heels together as in a forward ocho.  Does the shoe help you to stay in axis or take you off balance?
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Heels

Gentlemen – you need to not only be comfortable but make sure you are in balance with the choice of heel.  By far the best is what the Argentinians call ‘talon frances’  heel, similar to a ‘cowboy’ heel.   More manufacturers are now including these in their design ranges.


Ladies –
would benefit from having a heel of some sort, to put you in the correct posture.  If you’re in flat shoes, you will have to elevate which can be very tiring.  Heels can range from pencil-points to flared or cuban heels.  Height ranges can be between one and six inches.lb-shoes - Copy

Don’t be beguiled by high stilettos.  If this is your first pair of dance shoes and you’re not used to high heels, buy what feels more comfortable to you now.  You can always grow into higher heels as you gain experience and confidence.

This may be your first pair of shoes, but they won’t be your last!

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When you begin to dance a regularly, one pair of shoes may not be enough.   To relieve foot fatigue, change into other dance shoes as the evening progresses.  

Occasionally you see a Milonga advertise a shoe sale at their event.  Always worth a visit.

Shopping and Price

We strongly advise against buying online, unless you know the manufacturer and confident they fit.  Especially beware of buying online from Buenos Aires.  Delays are frequent and their shoe sizing is not consistent.

Search for a shop/s nearest to you and phone first to ask if they have your size in stock to try.  Prices will range from as little as £30 through to in excess of £130+.

Some of the more reasonably priced and accessible shops in the UK will sell:

Roch Valley, sometimes known as RVs
Supadance
International
Katz
Bloch
Werner Kern (German designed / Italian made)
Heavenly Dance Shoes (Watford – made to measure)

Many Tango dancers migrate to manufacturers such as the beautiful  Madame Pivot (Italian), Balenceo, Comme il Faut , Darcos, Alinas etc (Buenos Aires).  These are expensive and not widely available, but sometimes sold by their UK distributors at some Milongas, and some dance shoe shops.

We would advise against buying shoes for dancing from a conventional shoe shop.  If in doubt please ask your teacher (or email us) for advice before buying– we will be delighted to help as it’s really important not to waste your money on shoes that are not suitable.
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Maintenance

Don’t use your dance shoes outdoors.  Check the soles before / after use.  Polished or dirty floors deposit a sticky black substance on the soles, which needs to be carefully removed.  Do this gently – attacking suede  soles with a harsh wire brush will wear out your shoes within months.

Every pair of shoes will come with a fabric shoe bag.  Use this to protect the shoes from damage.

Carry a small bottle of talc that you can discretely use or for venues that allow its use – often the organiser will put a sprinkling of talc on the floor in a corner.  

If your shoes have patent leather don’t forget your silicone – or Vaseline.  Either of these products will stop the shoes sticking together as they touch.

Don’t get caught out without dance shoes.  When you’ve more than one pair, it’s a good idea is to keep a spare pair in your car at all times.

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© Jennifer Hudson, Tango Nomads, 2017

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