Getting Tango Shoes - Some thoughts from Lisa Ronald
Many would say that the allure of tango is in the shoes, however, selecting a good shoe, especially if you’re a beginning follower, can seem daunting and expensive. It’s easy to become glassy-eyed over the latest flashy styles, but a good shoe is one that renders you solidly grounded with weight on your heels and serves, not as a separate entity, but simply as an extension of your natural foot. Believe it or not, a fully grounded follower in three inch stilettos can support an off-balance leader who outweighs her by 50 pounds! Conversely, a fly-weight follower whose ankles are shaking because her heels are too high will tax leaders who dance with her.
When starting out, err on the side of a shorter, wider heel—less than two inches high. If you succumb to the siren of three inch stilettos right off the bat, you will struggle for a much longer time to improve your balance. Street heels right out of your closet might seem like an initially attractive option, but the heel on such shoes is rarely positioned directly under your proper balance point, a recipe for shaky ankles. Ditch your street heels and start with an inexpensive pair of authentic dance shoes. “Very Fine” is a good beginner brand with new shoes starting around $50. You can order them online and they are true to size. They have a lot of different styles and for each style you can choose your size, your heel height, and your heel width. Unlike more expensive brands, most of the styles are available in most common shoe sizes. In general, a closed heel is a more stable shoe than the really strappy open-heeled styles. With this brand, and many others, buy your shoes one half to one full size smaller than your street shoe size. They will be really tight at first, but they will stretch a fair amount. When broken in, your shoes should still fit your foot like a glove, since loose shoes will consistently feel unstable. To prevent blisters with a new pair of shoes that are tight, tape your toes the first few times with any athletic or stretchy brown medical tape that you can buy in the grocery store.
Over time as your dancing advances, you should try a variety of styles—closed heel, open heel, closed toe box, open toe box, T-strap, around-the-ankle straps, over-the-arch-straps etc.—to find the type that you like best and, once you develop good balance in a shorter heel, it will be easier to move up to something a little higher and a little thinner. Move up incrementally in heel height and thinness (ex. go from two inches to two and a half inches), once you’ve changed heel heights, stick with it. Don't buy five pairs of shoes that are all different and try to switch between them every time you practice. Marry yourself to one shoe for a while so that your dancing becomes consistent with that shoe before you try a different style. Generally, cheaper shoes will last six months to a year with heavy wear, while more expensive brands like Comme il Faut or Turquoise may last in the two-year range.
When you get to the point where you’re ready to try more expensive brand shoes, make sure to try shoes on in person. Do not order them online sight unseen! The more expensive brands fit very differently, and even different styles of the same brand can fit dramatically differently. Additionally, not every style is available in every size or heel height. By this point in your tango practice, you’re likely attending or considering attending tango festivals, where common shoe vendors showcase the latest styles. Add $200 to your travel budget and try shoes on first thing at the festival. Once you find the exact brand, size, style, and heel height you like, you can order new pairs online from the vendor or find them at lesser cost on ebay. Generally, shoe vendors come out with new styles every year or two and retire existing styles, so buying multiple pairs of a style you really like can be advantageous in the long run.
Happy shoe shopping!