Most of this information pertains to women’s shoes, but all of these vendors sell shoes for men as well. Edited September 19, 2022.
When you first start taking tango classes, you’ll find that sneakers or flat shoes or even socks are fine for classes. It’s better to get a sense of the kind of movements tango demands before you invest in shoes.
Even as you take more classes, sneakers and flat dance shoes can still work. But as you start to explore tango and attend tango socials, you may feel the need to fit in (totally legit). Or you may find that your shoes hold you back. Both of which mean it’s time to invest in a pair of Argentine tango shoes. In this post, we’ll give you some tips for choosing your first pair and some links to local(ish) retailers.
For all of our students:
To protect the floor at each of our venues, we require our students to wear “indoor shoes,” meaning that they aren’t ever used for outdoor wear.
When you first start tango, we simply advise you to wear shoes that strap securely to your feet, have non-marking soles, and are easy to pivot in.
Wear the heel height that is comfortable for you. You don’t have to wear 9 cm heels to be a “real” tango dancer. I personally wear shoes that are 7 to 8 cm. This is the right height for me because I don’t slide into the front of the shoe. In higher heels I also tower over many of the leaders I like to dance with. As you progress in your dance, you can wear higher heels.
(Or not! At Siempre Tango Ottawa, we don’t have a problem with women wearing flats for classes, prácticas, and the milonga. Your priority should be taking care of your feet for a long dancing life.)
The soles of tango shoes are usually made of leather. This is the most versatile surface, and you can pivot on just about anything that’s not rubberized. Some tango shoes have suede soles, which are also good for pivots but require maintenance.
If you find a pair of ballroom or salsa shoes that works for you, no problem! However, women’s shoes made specifically for tango are different:
- The metal shank in between the insole and the outsole is shorter than that for ballroom shoes.
- The padding of the insole tends to be thicker.
- Stabilility in tango shoes comes from attaching the insole, outsole, and heel with both glue and nails throughout.
- Tango shoes are built to be balanced, meaning that if you stand them up alone on a surface, they shouldn’t tip over or lean to one side.
- Women’s ballroom shoes have a certain “look” or profile that is different from a women’s tango shoe.
Investing in quality tango shoes means that they are more stable and less likely to pinch you. They should fit you well right out of the box. (However, I’ve found that “sparkly” material and patent leather break in more slowly. The upside is that these materials keep their shape for longer.)
When you first start learning tango, you won’t need to pivot so much, so shoe choice is less of an issue. However, as you continue your tango journey, you will actually need to pivot to lead turns and to do more interesting moves. And if you learn to follow from the beginning, you’ll need to be able pivot right away.
If you ever need to force a pivot, save your knees and invest in dance shoes!
Lots of men I know in tango use ballroom shoes, particularly if they have wide feet. Other men I know are very happy with their purpose-made tango shoes. The idea is that the shoe is meant to look like a formal shoe but be flexible and lighter.
The giveaway that you are not wearing dance shoes is if the outsole (the bottom part) sticks out beyond the toe – for practical reasons, you shouldn’t wear these because you are more likely to accidentally make contact with the follower’s toes.
Where to buy shoes:
Practice flats and men’s shoes
(Got another dance shoe store in Ottawa that you like? Let us know.)
High heels and custom shoes for men and women
There is no dedicated tango shoe seller in Ottawa for now. For the most part, we turn to our friends in Montreal to buy new shoes. The vendors that we mention below sell men’s and women’s shoes.
- Line Desrosiers is a tango shoe seller in Montreal. Her shop is called Tango Sublime. She sells Italian brands like Tangolera (known for the extra padding in the sole), Madame Pivot, and Regina. She is also on Facebook. (Note: My preferred brand is Tangolera because they can take a beating and they fit me very well out of the box.)
- Our friends at Stella Mary Creations sell D’Raso shoes. Stella sets up shop at Studio Tango in Montreal. You can make a custom order also and contact her on Facebook to make a request. (Note: I have not personally tried these shoes, but I know many people who like them.)
- Our friends at Montango have a small boutique which is open during their events or by appointment.
(While it is possible to order shoes from most brands online, such as Strictly for Dancers or Axis Tango, we strongly suggest that you try shoes on in person from an in-person vendor first to know your sizes in each brand. Each brand has its quirks, e.g. “This model is not good for wide feet, but this one is – in fact, you should order a different size.” So our best advice would actually be to make a trip to Montreal and see Line or Stella. Your feet will thank you!)