For the beginning tango dancer
If you are just beginning tango, choosing the right shoe for learning, practicing, and social dancing is incredibly important! The right shoe will help you build awareness about how you use your feet and create alignments in your body, aid you in developing strength and balance, and build your confidence because of it.
We generally recommend, for men and women, that you start with some basic, flat jazz shoes. For the ladies, we know beautiful stilettos are seductive, but it is best to be comfortable moving in flats before you introduce heels, even if you think that you are comfortable in them in other situations.
If you don’t have jazz shoes, thin-soled flats will work. Men can find leather shoes, but look for ones with a flexible sole and uppers that aren’t too stiff. Some students wear socks in class, which we also recommend, though you will want to have shoes for social dancing.
What to look for:
- Thin, smooth soles— You will need to be able to pivot on the ball of your foot. Rubber and soles with traction are not recommended. Suede and leather are the best choices.
- Flexibility where the ball of the foot meets the arch, so that you can lift your heel in order to pivot on the ball. In the photo to the right, you will see where the shoe needs to flex for this movement (although you will not need to lift your heel this high)
- Comfort! If the uppers are stiff and don’t allow your feet to move, you will have difficulty feeling the floor and finding your best alignments.
If you are ready for heels…
Not all heels are created equally, and it is of the utmost importance to find shoes that will support your foot and allow you to align your body in a healthy way.
We think it is best to buy shoes specifically made for tango dancers, and include links below to sites where you can order tango shoes. Many people start with ballroom heels, but we do not recommend these because they have a very flexible sole on the ball of the foot in order for dancers to “pointe,” which reduces the support for the arch that the tango dancer needs when pivoting and taking powerful steps. If you have existing foot issues, you should consult your doctor or a specialist about shoes.
Whether you choose to buy heels specifically made for tango or another type of heel, here is what to look for:
- Starting from the toe box, look for one that is snug, but not too tight. Look for shoes where your toes are not scrunched in toward each other, but can orient straight out from your foot, in a more natural position. This is why most tango shoes are open toed.
- The sole on the bottom of the ball of the foot must be smooth for pivoting. “Chrome” (hard, smooth) leather is the best choice, but suede can also work.
- Look for a stiff sole on the ball of the foot and a very stiff shank (the arch), but flexibility where the two meet.
- Start off with a closed heel cage, rather than a slingback.
- The heel should be situated right in the middle of your heel, not forward or back, right or left. You should be able to stand with your weight equally distributed between your heel and ball of your foot and feel the heel align with the center of your ankle. Be especially wary about collapsing inward or outward through your ankle. To the right, is a shoe made by Turquoise with a very good heel position.
- Make sure the heel is very sturdy, itself, and where it attaches to the heel cage. Avoid heels that show signs of any flexibility where the heel meets the shank.
Men’s tango shoes
Men often wait longer to buy shoes specifically designed for tango or dancing, since the differences between street shoes and tango shoes are less apparent than in women’s shoes, but having good dancing shoes is just as imperative for men. They will give you many advantages in learning the dance.
Here is a list of things that set men’s tango shoes apart from street shoes:
- Articulated or flexible soles allow men to pivot as easily as women. Very stiff soles make lifting your heel slightly difficult, reducing your ability to pivot and to make very deliberate steps, in which you use your whole foot.
- Thin soles with no “overhang” allow you to feel the floor, and your partners feet, when they touch. They also allow you to make more precise movements, since you are moving very close to your partner and her legs and feet. Street shoes and men’s dress shoes often have thick soles that protrude from the side of the shoe. The difference is illustrated in the two photos below– the top shoe is a tango shoe, and the bottom, a typical men’s dress shoe.
- Softer leather uppers also allow you to articulate your foot.
- The most important thing is comfort– you will need to decide how much heel you like, or don’t like, and the shape and style must suit your foot and build.
Two sites to find men’s tango shoes: 2x4s, the black and white shoes pictured above, have interchangeable soles, which are great for dancing on different surfaces. Turquoise just released a new line of men’s shoes, called Leon. Any large festival will also have men’s shoes vendors.
Happy shoe shopping!