Published July 18th 2016
I get a lot of questions about dance shoes. What should I buy? Where can I buy them? Where did you get yours? Do they really cost THAT much?! How do I look after them? So hopefully this series of Blogs can help in your quest to find the perfect pair of shoes!
Firstly I have a lot of experience when it comes to dance shoes, I own 14 pairs (yes I know there only 10 shown in my ‘Shoe Evolution’ above!), and currently carry about 4 pairs with me in my dance bag.
There is a lot of variety out there and I hope to show you what each style is for and what’s best for you so you don’t make a costly mistake! So here are some things to consider before you part with your cash!
Things to consider about different parts of the shoe from top to bottom.
Golden Rule: Try them on!
Different shapes and brands will fit different people. Some shoes are wide, some very narrow, some just small. For example my Tango shoes are Italian made and are a size 35, I normally wear a 37 (UK 4)! Dance shoes should fit snugly and your toes should cover the base of the shoe, but not hang over the edge. Some materials will give over time too.
There are a variety of different kinds of straps. T-Bar, ankle and wrap around. I’ve had them all. Wrap arounds are nice and flexible; I don’t wrap them around my ankle but around my foot instead, which gives me extra support. However some wrap arounds I have found uncomfy, as the guide at the back digs in.
You will also see non traditional buckles with quick releases, hooks and poppers. I personally love the hook system it’s so quick to get shoes on and off. I would like to say I’ve never had any shoe randomly come off because of this system! Hook or poppers also stop your straps from wearing out around the buckle holes, as the pressure is removed from these points.
Heel cages are, in the majority, closed. However Tango shoes can have open, sandal style backs. I always thought this would mean they would feel as though they were coming off, but having tried some on they are just as supportive as a closed cage due to the strap configuration. I personally am used to a closed heel cage and didn’t like the breeze around my ankle!
The front of your shoe is also important. Peep toes are good if you’re worried about getting trodden on as a beginner. However if you have wider feet they don’t always fit nicely. Some shoes have adjustable fronts, which can come in useful to get the width and fit you need. If you choose strappy style fronts make sure they aren’t too tight, triangular shaped blisters aren’t great…trust me!
Heels. There is a huge variety of different types of heels. From Cuban to stiletto, from 1 inch to over 3, it’s important you are comfy, balanced and can dance in your shoes, that’s what they’re for! Cuban heels are usually 1 inch and are the lowest heel you can buy. Next up is flared heels. They can be low and chunky up to about 2 inches, to slightly thinner but still substantial up to 3 inches. Finally the stiletto, the heel of choice for Tango. They look beautiful, but I know people are equally scared of them, and think they will never be able to dance in them. I wear stilettos for tango which are over 3 inches. When I went to buy them I asked to try on the lower and was asked why? I said I’m used to about 2 ½ inches so thought this was better choice. Boy was I wrong! The higher shoes are so balanced. The heels are constructed especially for tango and placed in the correct place under the foot. Meaning they are built for Tango. Although I was already used to being ‘up there’ in regards to shoes, so they won’t be for everyone. Another thing to note with Tango heels is that the heel height corresponds to the shoe size. So if you have smaller feet you will have a lower heel, bigger feet a higher heel. This helps the shoes to feel balanced.
Soles are what makes dance shoes. They allow you to pivot freely but also maintain some grip. Suede or leather are the options, although I know they are some vegetarian friendly options out there. Suede is great and the majority of shoes are constructed using it. It does require cleaning with a wire brush to keep it grippy. Leather soles tend to appear on tango shoes only. They are not as difficult to keep clean as you just scrape off the rubbish with a knife. Tango shoes also have very stiff soles which help as you are dancing on your toes and balls of your feet. Other styles are more flexible so you are able to point your toes.
Satin and leather are the main types of materials used for dance shoes, also PU leather which is usually used for the silver coloured shoes.
Colour options are pretty endless for Tango shoes, but are more reserved for other styles sticking to Tan, Black and Silver. Think about what you wear for dancing. Yes the green ones are beautiful but do they match your style? I went for Black polka dot for my first pair, as I often wore black clothes and black tights for dancing. I’ve moved on and bought the same pair in red as I’m no longer wearing tights (and they were beautiful and I couldn’t resist!).
Price. Yes that part. You’ve seen a beautiful pair but, woah, do they really cost that much?! Can’t I buy those cheaper ones on Ebay? Well yes you can, but as I’ve said you are buying blind fit wise. I’ve never bought shoes this way and I would be concerned about the quality. Shoes vary in price from £30 to £150. Social styles start about £30, Latin styles between £30 to £80. Tango shoes cost over £100. They are often handcrafted, made with 100% leather and imported from Argentina or Italy. They are also made specifically for Tango, and you can feel the difference when you dance, they are in total balance. Remember dance shoes do last, especially if you’re only dancing one style, once a week. Shoes are an investment in your dancing.
Finally, visit your local dance shop if it’s your first pair of dance shoes. They are very knowledgeable, will make sure the shoes fit, and will carry a variety of stock and can order shoes for you.
Equally if you think you’re ready for some tango shoes it’s still important to try them on! I did a lot of research on lots of different brands before I parted with my cash. I liked the look of the shoes from Balanceo and visited them at Cheltenham Tango festival to try some on. I’m glad I did as if I had ordered online I would have ended up with the wrong size shoes and heel, and probably something that did not fit my foot. Einat from Balanceo was amazing. She kept trying different shoes on my feet, from open back, to strappy, to peep toe to find the right size for all the different styles. Both my pairs of tango shoes are from her, the second pair I ordered online as I knew my size, Einat even contacted me to double check the size. I’m sure that other vendors are equally passionate about their shoes.
I hope this has helped in your quest to find your perfect pair of shoes for dancing. Look out for more Blogs in this series where I’ll look at different types of shoes for dancing and how to clean your shoes.