5 things beginners ask me about tango shoes

Question mark drawn on white note with pink paperclip on grey background.

As a tango shoe seller, I often receive enquiries from beginners, wondering what to choose as their first pair. Sometimes they’ve received conflicting advice from teachers and classmates on what sort of shoes they should be wearing. Here’s the five most common things I’m asked.

1. I’ve been told to get a high heel but I’m not sure. What would you recommend?

Forget what you’ve been told and go with what is best for you. The right shoes are only one part of the equation when learning tango and there is no one heel height that suits everyone. I believe that beginners should feel so comfortable in their shoes they can forget about their feet and concentrate on everything else they are learning. It can take a little trial and error to find out which height works best for you and it will depend on many things such as your comfortable axis, height, and any spine, knee or foot issues you may have.

A medium height heel with lots of support (closed heel cage and a “hugged” feel to your toes) is a good place to start. I frequently recommend my 7cm Mr Tango Shoes models as they have a very stable, grounded feel and look elegant without being sky high.

2. Dance shoes have to have suede soles, right?

A lot of dance shoes do indeed have suede soles, but a lot of tango shoes do not. Suede and some of the hybrids and synthetics on high-end tango shoes give the best floor-feel and are favoured by performers who need that sensitivity for deeply expressive arrangements (floor-feel is an interchangeable term for both the amount of contact you have with the floor – like how it would feel if you’re just wearing socks – and whether the floor itself feels good, sticky or slippery; I’m using the first meaning throughout this article). For the rest of us, various depths and finishes of leather give the best combination of support and floor-feel. I like the polished hard leather of Mr Tango Shoes soles as they make pivoting extremely easy and are just thick enough that your feet don’t hurt after a two hour class. My models by Turquoise have a softer leather sole that provides a great combination of floor-feel and support if you’re looking for a happy medium between suede and hard leather.

All that being said, there is nothing wrong with starting off with a suede-soled ballroom or latin shoe (like my models by Very Fine). They tend to be lightweight and in a lower price bracket than tango shoes, perfect if you’re not ready for the full investment or not sure yet what sort of tango shoes you want.

See some pictures of the different soles I offer on my site.

3. I’m worried about getting stepped on if my toes are exposed, but I don’t like the look of closed in shoes. Help!

This is a tricky one as having toes protected does feel a bit better but many feet are happier in open-toed shoes. You want your toes to be able to spread out, gripping, releasing and pointing without any constriction. The danger of being stepped on certainly decreases with experience but never goes away entirely. It’s down to finding a compromise between how free you want your toes to feel versus how much you want to protect them.

If you choose open toe make sure they are the right length for you. If your toes overhang the edge they are more vulnerable, since they extend beyond where you feel the floor through the shoe. For closed toe and peeptoes, don’t choose a shoe that is too long as your feet will slide around and you may have trouble sensing where the tip of your shoe is.

4. What would you recommend for my partner? He’s been wearing his work shoes but they’re too chunky.

My bestselling laceups by Very Fine (model 919101) are excellent first shoes for men. They are lightweight, suit various foot shapes and don’t look anything like what he might think of as dance shoes. Over time, some of my clients upgrade to a custom pair by Mr Tango Shoes or splurge on some Turquoise Leon, but I also have clients who just replace their Very Fine’s when they wear out because they love them!

5. I really don’t know what size I should wear. I’ve been told tango shoes are smaller than normal shoes but I don’t want to wear anything too tight.

A lot of dance shoes, especially tango shoes, do fit smaller than normal “street” shoes. This is partly due to them needing to fit like a second skin. Shoes are the dancer’s tool, an extension of the foot, and you never want to feel like you’re lugging the shoe around or constricted by it. The close fit also helps with floor-feel, and precision of placing your foot when moving. The nice thing about tango shoes is they are not designed to elongate the toes or follow the latest fashion trends so what you’ll find instead are shapes that feel very balanced and supportive rather than constrictive (it can actually be hard to go back to street shoes once you’ve found tango shoes you love!).

To figure out your size, a fail-safe approach is to measure what you already wear to dance in, and measure your feet. Note down your foot length and the width of the shoes on the soles at their widest point. Using your normal shoe size as a starting point, have a look at shoes on my site and see which ones match your measurements for length and width. I also give circumference around the toes and note if a shoe is particularly suited for narrow feet, wide feet or high insteps (the front of the foot).

Women’s tango shoes tend to be a few millimetres longer than your feet and just wide enough to support and enclose your feet without feeling like you’re not in contact with the floor. For men’s shoes and unisex sneakers, they’re usually at least 5 millimetres longer than your foot and wide enough for you to wear socks.

The majority of people I measure have one foot longer and/or wider than the other. It’s totally normal so don’t be concerned when you measure yours! It also means your shoes may feel tighter on one foot than the other. What you want is a compromise that feels good on both feet, accepting that one may need a bit more wearing in than the other. (If you have quite a big difference between your feet you can have a pair made for you by Mr Tango Shoes with a half or whole size difference).

Hop over to my website for a step-by-step guide to sizing and an explanation of lengths, widths and heel heights.

You can see all my current stock on my site in the shop and read about custom orders, the stories behind my brands and what my customers think of their shoes.

Amy’s sells beautiful shoes to tango dancers and brides and is the UK home of shoes by Turquoise, Mr Tango Shoes and Very Fine. Articles on this blog are the property of Amy’s and mustn’t be copied without permission. Please use the Reblog or share buttons below if you love this article and want to pass it on. Thanks!


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