by Pei Pei Tan
We get asked a lot of questions about tango shoes. This little article is not meant to be exhaustive, but it’s meant to give you some guidance on what to consider and what might fit your new tango identity.
I recommend going to WorldTone and ask to start out with a stacked heel. I never, ever wore high heels before dancing tango; I always wore really “comfortable looking shoes that made my feet look like freshly baked loaves of bread,” or I wore Birkenstocks. So, for you ladies who protest “But I don’t wear high heels!”—if I can do it, so can you. I personally have found Arika Nerguiz to be a great beginner’s pair. I bought two off the bat to rotate (if you rotate, they each last longer). And frankly, you DO want to dance in heels; it makes dancing tango easier. Maybe you can’t start off with a 3.5” heel, but you can probably wear 2” or 2.5”.
They are pricey and worth it. (Keep in mind that suede shoes might get dirtier easier.) This pair is lower heeled:
When shopping at WorldTone, allot yourself plenty of time. Bring water. There is free parking at the store. Wear panty hose or stockings if you can so you don’t have to wear their footies (wearing said footsies make it hard to see whether the shoes look good).
After dancing in a stacked heel for a while, your eye might be drawn to these killer high heels worn by other people in class. What are they? They are probably Comme il Faut.
Comme il Faut are perhaps no longer the hottest shoe in tango, but they are still up there in my view. A lot of the more experienced tango dancers have moved onto "softer" shoes, such as Souple or something else (e.g., Soy Porteño), with a lower heel. (I am still a tango baby and will indulge in vanity and wear higher stiletto heels.) Other brands are Turquoise, Neotango, Bluein, Madame Pivot, and Gretaflora. CIFs are killer tango shoes and very comfortable (yes, my feet hurt after 3 hours of dancing). They almost always make you feel sexy and other tangueras love them. I always get tons of compliments, which I admit, is great for the ego. The shinier the shoe, the better for tango.
I am a size 7 in normal shoes, but size 36 in CIF.
How do you know what size you are? My recommendation: Go to Worldtone (again) and ask to try on Turquoise and Comme il Faut.
You have to ask for them; the shoes are not on display. They will only have around 2-3 pairs in your size, but can ask to have their NY office ship shoes (for $2 per shoe). After you nail down your size, you can then go shop online. hee hee. (I've bought over 7 pairs of shoes from Worldtone, so I don't feel bad shopping online.)
Here are my two online sources:
Felina has occasional sales and the coveted shoes go very quickly. If you see something that you love, I would suggest you get it stat because I've had shoes snatched away within seconds after the sale is announced (sign up for email alerts if you want, but if you do, be prepared to be sorely tempted).
Rhythm & Motion (ditto, and depending on whether they have a sale and the US dollar to Canadian dollar (CAD) exchange rate, you can get a great value, see photo below):
Lisadore.com has the biggest collection, but their prices are awful.
Another way to try on shoes is by going to local milongas. You might find shoe sellers there. Locally here in Los Angeles, there is a person called Yolanda who carries Neotango, CIF and her own brand. Yuliana B. sells Souple and Bandolera at Milonga Querida and Milonga Luna (I like Bandolera, too!). If you go to festivals, you'll definitely find shoe vendors there.
Be careful with satin...satin will definitely get dirty as you drag your feet around. So think twice before you buy that satin CIF as your first pair. Spray all shoes with some protectant before wearing them, and get them polished (if leather) so the dirt gets onto the outer polish layer and not into the leather. Patent leather is very durable and will stretch less.
If you’re going to classes a lot (perhaps you are a Challenger!) or if you are learning how to lead, you might want to get a pair of “flats.” (Learning how to lead in high heels is difficult.) Flats will make your feet look like Mickey Mouse, but there is no way around it.
You’ll probably want to switch to these shoes late into a milonga as well (this is me at around 1:30 a.m. at Oxygen’s Cabeceo Milonga, photo courtesy of Andrei Andreev):
Be careful of shoes like this:
They seem to work well for dancers who have very strong feet. A few dancers have complained about the wobbly foam heel. Other dancers really love them and I see them worn all the time.
I prefer smooth soles, while others prefer suede. There is no right or wrong. Smooth is more slippery and you can pivot really easily, but then again, if it’s too slippery and you slip, you might prefer suede. A good cobbler can put suede on your shoes (and vice versa, I think). You can even ask the cobbler to put suede on a favorite pair of sneakers or something like that.
Regarding soles, if you get them wet or slightly damp, you will have a very hard time pivoting and thus you will not enjoy dancing. Some dancers always bring a back-up pair, or have a bit of baby powder on hand (or there might be baby powder somewhere on the dance floor in a corner, look around). Be mindful of using baby powder; the host of the milonga might not want you to use it (and thus make their dance floor super slippery for other dancers). If you’re scarfing down food at the food table, you might inadvertently step onto something damp and won’t even know it. This has happened to me a couple of times, since I am usually helping myself to all the food at the table.
You might also want to sprinkle some baby powder into your shoe after you’ve worn them.
I hope this article has been helpful. Enjoy!
These are my newest indulgence (Soy Porteño), that I got from Julie Friedgen’s studio:
on 2014-09-04 06:19 by Oxygen Tango
Pei Pei began her Tango life at Oxygen when she joined the 12th cohort of the Tango Challenge September 2013. She quickly became an active member of the community and eventually held O2's first ever membership relations position. she especially enjoyed being the unofficial co-host of The Practica of Love. Pei Pei can personally attest to the magical powers of Tango as she abruptly quit her job to start a new chapter of life with her significant other. She is now living in Berkeley and will continue to explore the tango world in the Bay Area. You can catch her interview here!