The tango is a very unique dance, full of fire and passion so when dancing the tango you’ll need a unique pair of shoes that will help you perform your most perfect and most passionate dance.
Tango shoes, like a lot of other dance shoes, are designed to not only make your legs and feet look beautiful, but also help you dance better.
Why can’t you use your regular ballroom dance shoes for dancing tango? For amateurs, this might be OK, but anyone learning the real art of tango will understand that ballroom tango and Argentine tango are two very different dances. Authentic Argentine tango shoes, like the Comme Il Faut brand, feature leather uppers and soles, and are more flexible and generally more comfortable than generic dancing shoes.
If you’re getting serious about Argentine tango, then you’re going to need the right pair of tango shoes. In this article we’re going to show you how to choose the right pair of tango shoes for your feet and your dance, and also review the best tango shoes available in 2013.
What Makes A Good Pair of Tango Shoes?
While there are different characteristics that make different shoes more suitable to different dancers, good tango shoes for both men and women have a few overall key characteristics.
Tango Shoes Should Have Leather or Suede Soles
The soles of men’s and women’s tango shoes should have a leather or suede sole. This enables you to pivot and slide smoothly while providing traction enough so you won’t slip.
Tango Shoes Should Have Soft Lining
Tango shoes need to be comfortable, so you’ll ideally be looking for shoes that have a soft lining, preferably leather.
As long as your foot is comfortable and the padding does not impede your flexibility nor your sensitivity to floor contact, the choice of lining thickness is generally personal.
Tango Shoes Should Have Thin, Flexible Soles
A thin sole is important as it enables you to feel the ground, assisting with your balance and foot placement. This is important for men but particularly important for women’s high heels. The sole also needs to be flexible to enable it to move with the natural contours of your feet and your rhythm.
In regular ballroom dance shoes, the sole will be supported by a steel shank (flat metallic strip) to prove arch support. In Argentine tango shoes, this shank is considerably shorter to enable greater shoe flexibility.
Tango Shoes Need Heels
High heels are a cornerstone of the tango. Not only do heels make your legs look elegant, the heel also helps you maintain balance when stepping. During the tango, your balance is set slightly forward and a high heel helps to offset this and maintain stability.
Beginners not used to wearing high heels often choose to start in lower heels and work up to the higher heels while their ankle strengthens. Same too with beginners choosing a wider heel and then working their way up to a stiletto.
Dancers with longer feet can generally more easily adapt to higher heels as there is less gradient between toe and heel.
Heels generally range between 2 to 3.5 inches (5 to 9 centimeters) for women. For men’s tango shoes, the typical Cuban heel height of 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) is generally sufficient, but men can choose higher or lower depending on their preferences.
Tango Shoes Need A Secure Fit
A secure fit is vital. A well-fitting shoe not only keeps your dance steps on track, it also protects your feet and legs from injury.
Your foot should not slide in your tango shoe, and if it does, your shoes are too big. Your shoes need to be just longer than your feet – a 0.5cm length difference is ideal. Shoes that are too long increase your risk of tripping and stepping on your partner’s toes.
The right width is also important to keep your foot stable. When fitting for your width, remember that leather shoes will stretch, and natural leather and suede will stretch more than patent leather or shoes designed with satin.
Other Factors to Consider When Choosing Tango Shoes
Heel Cage and Straps
Your choice between an open or closed heel cage is a personal one, and most beginners worried about the security of their feet will choose a closed heel cage and or a closed toe. Open cages are still secure, especially with thicker straps. Some shoes have a combination style cage.
All straps should fit snugly but not bind or cut the feet in anyway.
Do You Need Practice Tango Shoes?
Most tango experts recommend practicing in the same shoes you’ll be wearing to your milonga, and don’t recommend practicing in flats, low heels or fitness trainers. Balance is an important part of learning the tango and switching between low and high heels impedes your balance training. Besides, the high tango heel is a pillar of the tango dance tradition.
Now we know what makes a good tango shoe, let’s turn to looking at some good choices for tango shoes currently available.
Handcrafted in Argentina, these Lilit tango shoes from Mythique are perfect for beginners and tango pros alike. They feature a leather sole with a soft suede upper, and are slightly padded to ensure excellent comfort and fit. The Lilit has a partially open heel cage for that more elegant look while still providing the foot protection that comes with a full heel cage.
Available in black and gold, in narrow, medium or wide width, and a range of heel sizes from 5 to 9 centimetres.
Pros – Soft suede upper
Cons – The narrow heel might not suit beginner dancers
The austere look of the Livia tango shoe presents a bold statement about your dance, speaking to the authentic Argentine tango traditions from the streets of Bunes Aires. Handmade in Argentina, the Livia is crafted from soft, durable leather with excellent stability from all angles across the foot and ankle.
The fully enclosed upper provides good protection for the foot, especially suitable for beginners and those with less experienced partners who might tend to step on your toes. The wide but still high heel is a good choice for beginning dancers who would like to start dancing in high heels but still have the foot protection of a full shoe before moving onto something more strappy.
Shown here in black natural leather, it’s also available in patent and lame. The Livia heel height ranges from 5 to 9 centimetres.
Pros – Excellent all over foot protection
Cons – The fully closed in look might not be suited to all dancer’s tastes, and your formal competitions may have some rules against this style of shoe for aesthetic purposes.
For the boys looking for a good pair of men’s tango shoes, these Party Series shoes from VFS are a fine choice. Not only do these shoes look fantastic and provide the real flare that a tango dance inspires, they’re also built with all of the features that define an excellent pair of tango shoes. They are all leather, with a suede sole and a cushioned insole for comfort. They’re very versatile and are good for ball room, standard or smooth dancing. If you wear these, you’ll be sure to receive compliments on your style!
The heel is standard at 2.5cm.
Pros – Stylish with a cushioned insole for comfort.
Cons – Has been reported to be tight across the toes.
Another fine women’s tango shoe from Mythique, the Scarlett feature a vibrant red and black suede and patent leather upper and leather sole. The closed toe and enclosed heel cage provides excellent foot protection and the T-bar strap design provides a secure and flexible fit while still delivering an elegant shoe.
Like all Mythique shoes, the Scarlett is handmade in Argentina and can be customised to suit your specific tango shoe needs.
Heel sizes are available from 5 to 9 centimetres.
Pros – the best of both worlds with a closed in toe and heel cage as well as T-bar straps
Cons – the standard toe box can feel a little narrow on some feet and some customisation may be required before purchase.
Mythique’s Charlotte tango shoes are an excellent choice for dancers looking to add a little vibrant colour to their tango shoes. The charlotte’s feature an all suede upper and a fine leather sole. The strappy, open toed design delivers exceptional flexibility while the partially enclosed heel cage provides excellent stability while still maintaining the elegance of an open cage.
They are made with a built in padding point of the ball of the foot to provide increased support during pivot movements.
Available in scarlet and burgundy with heels ranging from 5 to 9 centimetres.
For dancers looking for a shoe similar to the Charlotte but with a more subtle colouring, the black and silver Mythique Persefone is a worthy alternative.
Pros – vibrant colouring on soft suede uppers
Cons – the added pivot support might not be suitable for all foot types or dancing styles.
With everything the tango dance has to offer for both your body and your soul, fitting the right pair of tango shoes is an absolute must for any tango dancer. From beginner to professional, men and women, the best tango shoes are easy to find now you know what to look for.