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. I think 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 maybe attend tango socials, you may feel the need to fit in (totally legit). 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 a higher heel 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 class and practice, or even to dance socially. Our priority is helping you to take 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, stay with those. However, shoes made specifically for tango shoes 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 list to one side.
- For an experienced dancer’s eye, 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!
Stay away from flashy designs unless you are super comfortable with people’s eyes being drawn to your feet.
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 another 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.)
(While it is possible to order shoes from most brands online, such as Strictly for Dancers or Axis Tango, we suggest that you try shoes on in person from an in-person vendor first to know your sizes in each brand.)