Jun 192013

Shoes always do more than protect us from the floor. They are, as we say, oversignified. Shoes are always part of our fashion expression, and we know they may communicate class status. In addition to these dimensions, fellow dancers regard our shoes with great care, assessing our experience and prowess from the choices we have made and the wear we have put on them.

My rebel tango position on shoes is that you should wear whatever makes you feel sexy. I believe that tango needs to be more contemporary and fashionable so it doesn’t get stuck as a cliché and relic. I want people to dance, so I want tango to appear as relevant to a lot of different cultural contexts.
I see no reason whatsoever to wear technical dance shoes, and several reasons not to. Like clothing, there are a few functional requirements, but many non-dance shoes meet these requirements, while looking and feeling much better than tango shoes. Here’s my rant about the lack of fashion in women’s tango shoes.
Another problem with tango shoes is the incredibly poor service provided by tango shoe companies, while charging premium prices. Outside of Buenos Aires, selection is very limited. Customers who order shoes are often frustrated by long waits, ill-fitting shoes, and uncommunicative and defensive vendors. When any shoe repair shop can resole your shoes with leather, suede, or dance chrome, why bother? Here’s my Guide to getting “custom shoes” made in Buenos Aires

I encourage my students to experiment with shoes, because some revellers dance so much better in flats than heels, but they don’t know until they try. For everyone, I recommend avoiding expensive and unfashionable dance shoes, buying normal shoes they find attractive and having the soles re-done if necessary. Shoemakers can even build you a mixed sole, with the pivot area in one material and the outer edge in another.

The functional requirements

  • The shoe must stay on your foot by means of a strap or laces. Slip on shoes can easily separate from your foot when you step backward.
  • The toe portion of the shoe must be able to pivot. Many types of shoe soles, including some plastic and rubber soles pivot just fine on wood surfaces. Dancers who use a lot of muscle in their pivot may prefer grip to slip in their shoes. My friend dancer Pedro Farias has switched from leather to rubber toes.
  • The shoe must not extend forward or lateral of the foot. (Pointy toes can be difficult.)

That’s it. As long as it meets these requirements, it’s a tango shoe. There are many shoes more attractive, affordable, and comfortable than tango shoes.

If you want to experinment with other kinds of shoes start at the thrift store and try several things to see what they feel like when you dance. Once you find something that works for you, you’ll know what to look for in the shops. Trying different options from the thrift store enables you to experiment at low cost.

If you have an unusual foot, it’s especially difficult to get satisfactory shoes from tango shoe companies, despite the fact that they offer “custom” services. You are far better off working with a professional shoemaker who specializes in bespoke fitting.

This post discusses women’s reveller shoes, men’s marking shoes, and shoes for women who dance both roles and shoes for men who dance both roles.

Women reveller shoes

Women are not required to wear hgh heels. If you don’t like them, or don’t feel comfortable in them, don’t bother. Low-heeled tango shoes have a grandmotherly look. The kind of grandmothers who dance tango tend to be much sexier than that. Better to find a stylish fashion shoe that you find comfortable.

Women who don’t like or don’t feel comfortable in high heels will not dance well in them. I have asked many of my students to try dancing in a sneaker-style shoe and found them to use their body much better. Remember that your confidence and pleasure are the goal here, not dressing for an arbitrary imagined external viewpoint.

But this does not mean that I recommend common dance practice shoes as the alternative. These tend to be lace-up sneakers which look dreadful with skirts. The only non-sneaker practice shoe for women is the DNI baby-doll, but unfortunately they look like rainboots.

For those women who do love to wear high heels, I think you can find more beautiful shoes and far superior customer service at fine department stores, boutique shoe stores, and local artisan shoemakers.

Two things make tango heels tend to be unattractive. The first is the use of standard prefab heels, rather than heels designed as part of a shoe, or for a seasonal line. The second is design by recombinations of modular toe and heel sections in different colors and fabrics, rather than fashion design. See my post on Comme Il Faut shoes. An exception to this practice in Buenos Aires is VB Tango Shoes.

Wouldn’t you rather wear this?

…than this?

Men’s marking Shoes

Fortunately the situation with men’s tango shoes is somewhat better. The shoes tend to be more attractive because they are designed as one whole, rather than separate front and back sections. I especially like brogues for tango, but you can easily find beautiful brogues in regular shoe stores. Marcue makes gorgeous custom-made brogues in fabulous colors with custom fitting service and international return shipping.

For marking, I prefer a shoe with a soft rubber heel, and sneakers are more likely to offer this. If you’ve never danced in a sneaker, I recommend you give it a try and see how it affects muscle activation in your legs. If you decide that you like the feeling, then you’ll want the same feeling in a dress shoe. Companies like Camper, LaCoste, and Puma’s Ferrari and Ducati lines make fancy and flamboyant sneakers out of black patent leather and other dressy materials. Designer shoes may cost more in some cases than tango shoes, but come with far less frustration and waiting.

Puma and Tiger both make beautiful sneakers, some of which have minimally gripping soles.

Tiger Rio Runner

Women’s marking shoes.

This is the difficult area! Women who mark in pants can wear men’s tango shoes if they can find them in the right size. Marcue makes brogues for women. But if you mark in a skirt, or you want to switch from mark to revel in the same shoes, the situation is dismal. I hope to design an appropriate shoe soon. The best I’ve found for changing roles while wearing a skirt (and therefore avoiding lace-up shoes) are solid strappy wedges and stable wide-heeled boots.

Shoes for men who switch from mark to revel

Most men revel just fine in their marking shoes, but I’m sure this wil be an area of development as more men begin to revel socially. I would be sure to get round-toed shoes that do not point AT ALL. Points on the front can make projection and pivoting less comfortable.

I'd love to dance with you

photo Ilsa Hellman

I want you to know that you're not alone....

... neither in your dreams for tango nor in your frustrations.

My deepest desire is the same as all my students and friends ... those who have yet to start dancing and those who dance a lot.

It's partnership.

One thing I've learned on this quest, we need to:

Stop Waiting for Partners, and start
Building them

I've written a 10-step action guide. Are you ready to find the Partners you want?

 19 June 2013