How to Choose A Tango Shoe That is Right For You: 

A Detailed Buying Guide For Beginner to Advanced Dancers

by Isabelle Kay

As an instructor of Argentine tango for more than seven years in San Diego and other areas, I have been acutely aware of the crucial role that the correct shoes play in learning and dancing tango.  

At the start of your Argentine tango education, socks may be the best or only tool at your disposal. Socks allow your feet to maximize contact with the floor, and allow some pivoting specially socks of nylon or other synthetic materials.  You can also use ballet slippers, jazz shoes, etc.

By the time you are starting to use pivots regularly (e.g. in ochos, molinetes, etc.) you will need to use shoes.  You can use shoes you already own at this stage if they meet the following requirements:

Shoes with no more than a two-inch heel that stay on your feet (with straps), that have a leather or other non-stick and non-marking sole, and are not wedges or don’t have exaggeratedly pointed toes.  You can have a cobbler add leather (smooth or split leather (i.e. suede)) to your shoes if that will result in the right shoe.  You can also use ballroom or salsa shoes, so long as the heel is no higher than two inches.

Once you start attending milongas regularly (after approximately 20 hours of dancing), you will want specialized Argentine tango shoes.

General recommendations on selecting women’s tango shoes:

  • Sizes:  If you are unsure, or between sizes, order a smaller size if it is suede, the larger size if it is leather or cloth. You can add padding in the ball of the foot if the shoe is slightly large.  Older dancers may appreciate this in particular. You can purchase pads at a very reasonable price. I can recommend some that work for me.
  • Heel heights:  the larger your shoe size, the higher the heel you can wear, since the heels are made to a specific height, and NOT proportional to the length of the shoe.  Therefore, a person in a size 5 (35 cm) shoe with a 7 cm heel will feel a much greater slope of the foot than someone in a size 9 (40 cm) shoe.  In addition, women who dance only “Apilado” style and never separate can wear higher heels, since they are supported by their partner and don’t take large steps and pivot on their own axis.  Conversely, women dancing Salon or Nuevo, or with small feet, will probably not be comfortable in the highest heels offered (9 cm.)

  • Coverage:  in the beginning, the more surrounded your foot is by the shoe, the more support (and protection) your feet will have.  So designs that have a closed heel cage with more material and a toe box that is closed and extends backwards further are recommended.  With time, dancing and confidence, you may choose less material to expose more of your foot, including open toes and even straps around the heel.

  • Straps:  Should fit snugly, but not bind your ankles.  I dislike a single strap around my ankle high up, so I look for designs where it is lower across the top of my foot, or cross (X) straps and t-straps.  Apparently, if you have wide feet, you want to avoid the X.  Some designers have very narrow straps, which may be difficult to get into the buckle; some have one-time adjustable straps which then hook (e.g. Darcos.)

  • Materials:
    • Smooth leather uppers are traditional, and if you have only one pair, they should be of leather; it is hard-wearing, easiest to clean, and stretches somewhat to fit your feet. 
    • Suede uppers add a rich look, but require more careful maintenance; the material also stretches more quickly, reducing support.
    • Other upper materials, such as printed cloth, fake fur, lace, etc., are nice for a third or fourth pair, especially to complement a particular outfit.  They will not give much, and usually get dirty quickly.
    • Soles:  traditionally, smooth leather is used, as ladies used to walk in off the street to dance.  But with slippery wooden floors, suede (also called “split leather” or “chrome leather”) offers more security, but also requires more care, including avoiding liquids, and brushing regularly. 

Unfortunately, in US in general and in San Diego in particular, the options for acquiring tango shoes are limited and having purchased dozens of shoes from various sources with mixed success, let me share my recommendations on your first pair of Tango shoes.

Selecting Your First Tango Shoes

  • Start with a “Cuban” heel, if you can find them. These heels are two inches high, somewhat wide, but elegant, and look nice on a closed-toe shoe.  My favorite learning shoe that stayed on my feet is from Diamante who makes a couple of styles (available at Carmen’s Dance Shoes in San Diego) that I continue to use as my basic for teaching, including leading and following. 

  • Next, try to find a “Classic” tango shoe with a tapered supportive heel (NOT a stiletto), no higher than 2.5 inches (6.5 cm.)  If you have a wide foot, you may wish to select suede material (it stretches more) and an open or more rounded toe.  If you have narrow feet, select a closed or “peep” (small opening) toe.  There are many brands of these, but I recommend Darcos Tango Shoes as they have a good selection of well made and reasonably priced shoes.

Buying Your Next Tango Shoes

When you are ready for higher heels, there are lots of stylish possibilities at Darcos Tango and other places.  I recommend tapered (not stiletto) heels up to 7.5 or 8.0 cm. 

Save the stilletos and strappy sandals for when you have your walk and balance and confidence down cold, especially if you are dancing with your own axis in salon or Nuevo or mixed styles. 

When the time is right, there is a dazzling and expensive array to choose from. 

Let me know if you have any comments or questions.   

Isabelle Kay, Dancer, Instructor, and Performer
Darcos Tango Shoes Representative

About Isabelle Kay:

Isabelle has bought and danced in dozens of shoes from nearly a dozen makers including Neo Tango, Jorge Nel Designs, Danskin, Viviana Tango Shoes, Comme Il Faut, and of course, Darcos Tango Shoes. She has purchased shoes online, from local representatives, custom ordered then in Buenos Aires, and devoted a good deal of time at Tango Shoe stores while in Argentina comparing the craftsmanship, materials, construction and fit of Tango shoes from a variety of well-known and lesser known brands..

Isabelle normally takes 2-3 different shoes to a milonga and her performances are characterized by several complete custom changes including of course, the right matching Tango shoes. She has experienced, bad fitting shoes(even in so-called "custom built" shoes), broken straps on her favorite shoes, failed repairs, CSF (Catostrophic Shoe Failure) or having the heel separate from the shoe, and worse, not having the right shoe for an outfit!

About Isabelle's Dancing Background: