Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance.
The Argentine tango is a beautiful, sexy dance that is having a resurgence around the world. It's quite different from the ballroom tango you may have seen on Dancing with the Stars.
Because it's a social dance, you might think it can be danced in any old pair of shoes - and it's true, you can manage with street shoes for a while. But if you're taking regular classes, it won't do. There's a reason why dance shoes exist - they make dancing easier, and they protect you from injury.
Genuine tango shoes can be expensive. Luckily, authentic tango shoes aren't absolutely essential for a beginning student. In fact for women, they are best avoided until you're more experienced.
You may have heard the saying that "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels". That's also true of tango. As a learner, you have enough on your plate learning the steps, without having to think about your balance.
Even if you're already accustomed to running in Manolo Blahniks like Sarah Jessica Parker, you're asking for a sprained ankle if you jump straight in and buy tottering 4-inch heels for your first tango shoe!
However, avoiding stilettoes doesn't mean you should go to the other extreme, and practice in flats. In a tango couple, the two dancers lean their weight in towards each other. If a couple was in close hold and the male dancer suddenly said "Beam me up Scotty" and winked out of sight, his partner would fall forwards -- that's how much they are leaning in.
That's why tango shoes need heels. And not just any heel - it's positioned on the shoe in a way that keeps your weight over the balls of your feet. Dancing in heels changes your balance significantly, so it's worth getting used to it from the start.
A good compromise for female beginners is a 2 inch to 2.5 inch heel. It's hard to get real tango shoes in that size heel, but you can get Latin shoes, which have the same "forward pitch".
Latin Dance Shoes
The only downside of Latin shoes are that they're very soft and flexible, and most experienced tango dancers would prefer a bit more rigidity - but for a beginner, they do a good job at a fraction of the price of a "real" tango shoe.
Latin shoes have another essential - an ankle strap, t-bar or criss-cross straps to keep the shoe securely in place. I don't recommend sling-backs or open shoes for tango, ever.
For men, though, resorting to Latin shoes isn't really necessary - because there are some top men's tango shoes available at around the same price as a men's Latin shoe.
The Aris Allen Tango Shoe
Aris Allen is a US dance shoe company. Their philosophy is that your dancing will look its best if you wear the shoes the dance was invented in. For tango, that's a 100% hand-made leather shoe with a raw leather sole - and that description fits the Aris Allen men's tango shoe exactly.
Raw leather soles are a special type of leather sole that is either sanded or varnished. They take a few hours to "break in" - but once they've absorbed the humidity from the air, they'll perform very like a normal chrome suede dance sole, letting you pivot and turn without losing control. However they're more durable than suede and don't need roughing up with a brush. If they've picked up dirt, just scuff them on the sidewalk and you're good to go!
This is not a ballroom shoe - it's designed specifically for tango dancers, with classic styling and that essential higher, stacked leather heel. Another nice feature of the shoe is the supportive foam lining, which cushions the foot for longer comfort on a hard dance floor.
You can buy this shoe and a range of other Aris Allen shoes on Amazon.
For men, there's no reason to change shoes as you progress. But for women, it's a different story. Higher heels are not essential to dance better - but most tangueras (female tango dancers) will start to lust after a pair of gorgeous genuine Argentine tango shoes fairly early in their dancing career!
Don't be in a hurry to go "up", though. The 3 to 4 inch heels (and higher) heels are designed for dancers who use close embrace, for obvious reasons - the more you're supported by your partner, the less you need to balance on your own. If you're dancing a more open tango style, then a 2.5 to 3 inch heel is still the recommended height, even for advanced students.
But if you are dancing in close embrace and you're ready for a "real" tango shoe, Mythique are one of the best makes available outside Argentina - and in gorgeous designs, too.
Teresa Schultz from East London, in South Africa on September 12, 2010:
These tango shoes are certainly gorgeous. My 12 year old son recently did a school project on Shirley Temple (so tap dancing shoes featured) but they're certainly not as pretty as tango shoes. You certainly know your stuff - thanks for sharing!
Pamela Lipscomb from Charlotte, North Carolina on August 21, 2010:
I love to watch the Tango when it is well done. Have to say you do need the right tango shoes to complete the look! Thank for the idea on Tango shoes.
Morgan F from USA on August 18, 2010:
Wow! I had no idea so much went into tango shoes! I'm not a great dancer myself (ok i was a ballerina in third grade but that doesn't count lol), but great hub I'm off to read more!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 18, 2010:
WOW! I'd have fallen down several times trying to dance like that!
With a bum knee, I don't do heels. I only wear athletic/walking shoes all Fall/Winter/Spring, and my trusty Birkenstock sandals all Summer!
But, the shoes are pretty, and the hub was interesting!
Earth Angel on August 18, 2010:
Wow!! That was beautiful!! And that was you Marisa dancing in the video, right?? Just gorgeous!! Makes me want to dust off my dancing shoes and get back on the floor!!
How incredibly different that tango is from the style it has evolved into here in the U.S.!! Yours is much more respectful, elegant and skillful!!
Thank you for sharing!!
Blessings always, Earth Angel!!
Of couse Marisa will get 'clicks!!' I just clicked every box!!
schoolgirlforreal on August 17, 2010:
Hi! I don't like shoes much but your hub is well laid out! Hopefully you will get clicks... :)
dracaslair on August 17, 2010:
good one lots of women like shoes
drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 17, 2010:
What a coincidence, Marisa. I'm reading your lovely hub today and last night I watched a movie, "Assassination Tango" with Robert Duvall (which he produced, directed and starred in). It featured many wonderful scenes of genuine Argentine tango.