All about my tango shoes

Lately I have been spending quite a lot of time on studying shoes. Out of curiosity, I dissolved few pairs of my old tango shoes, because I would like to know what makes a tango shoe special. I don’t know if I already found the answer. However, if you would like to know your tango shoes more than what you can normally see, then please read the following.

*Please note that all the photos here are the result of my “research”. If anyone wants to use them for whatever purposes, please ask for my permission.*

Mr. Tango 1
Both man and woman’s shoes share the same structure – upper, insole, outsole and heel. Upper is the part that covers our feet, insole is the part where the bottom of our feet has contact with the shoes, and outsole is the part where the shoe has contact with the ground. The photo above shows (from left to right) the upper, the cover of the insole, insole, outsole and the heel.

CIF1

Delia1
Heel is attached to the shoe by nails. The number of nails used, the type of nails used and how the nails are attached vary from different shoemakers. Unless the heel is badly attached to the shoe – a wrong heel is installed to the shoe, the heel is not centered to the shoes or the nails are badly attached; with the enforcement of the nails, the heel should be very strong.

It’s not very difficult to find out whether the heels are well installed. The shoe (new shoe) should perfectly stands on its heel, and the heel should be firmly installed to the shoe. If the shoe wobbles on its own, then for sure it won’t give you a good support and balance.

Ladies, if you manage to break the heel of your tango shoes, if it’s not coming from your shoes, then it must be coming from you. Usually your old shoes can tell if you have this problem. Take out your old tango shoes and place it on a flat surface (e.g. table or floor), observe the angle between the surface and the heel. If the heel is still perfectly straight, forms a right angle to the surface and can still stand perfectly on its own, that’s good news for you. It means your shoe is still in good condition (at least from a structural point of view) and you can probably continue to wear it. If not, then probably the heel is “overused” – you have been relying too much on your heels to balance and support your body weight when you dance. Actually, it does not only happen in tango, ladies who don’t know how to walk on their high heels share the same problem, and it reflects on their shoes. Solution? Change your way of walking and get a new pair of shoes.

Delia2

CIF2
Then in between the insole and the outsole, there’s a shank spring. It’s a piece of metal placed at the hollow area of the sole to support the arch of our feet. In many cases (especially for woman’s shoes), the shank spring is embedded into the insole. Like the one shown in the photo, the shank spring is inside the insole that is made of plastic.

So what makes tango shoes special? I think there’re two things.

First is the padding. See the photos below and then you will understand why we usually find our tango shoes more comfortable than the other shoes.
CIF3

Mr. Tango 2

Delia3

Second, the upper is firmly attached to the insole so that the shoes won’t get lose easily. Nowadays, most of the woman shoes are assmbled by strong rubber cement. Tango shoemakers use rubber cement too, but some also use nails. I was surprised by the number of nails I found inside my shoes, and now I understand why my tango shoes are so strong.
Delia5

Delia4

CIF5

CIF4

Finally, if you wonder who are my “victims” – Delia, Mr. Tango and Comme Il Faut.

13 Responses to “All about my tango shoes”

  1. Isaac Says:

    Very good and simple piece of explaining the inner workings of the shoe. Many shoe carcesses though… terrible!!!

  2. christine Says:

    May I know if the suede sole is better or the leather sole if I have flat feet and need strong arch support and extra padding for the front part of my foot. Thanks.

  3. Royce Says:

    Dear Christine,

    Suede sole or leather sole doesn’t matter much in the case of flat feet. Suede sole usually is just a thin piece of suede add on top of a normal leather sole. In terms of thickness of the sole and support, there’s no big difference between the two.

    If you need strong arch support and extra padding for the ball of your feet, what you can do is to find some plastic or leather padding specially made for putting in the shoes. I’m sure you can find different types and shapes of padding in the shoe store. You have to try different shapes/thickness until you find the one that makes you feel comfortable. Besides that, there’s not much you can do with your tango shoes.

  4. Michael Lavocah Says:

    Hi Royce

    I didn’t know about the metal shank in the sole. This must be what makes the sole of the tango shoe so stiff, like a street shoe, while many other dances (ballroom, jazz) favour very flexible soles, perhaps so you can get up on your toes.

    Sometimes I see people using dance trainers, in which the heel and the sole are completely separate. I think these are completely inappropriate for tango.

    Michael
    P.S. Tanguango is really great isn’t it!!!

  5. Linda Says:

    hello,
    I have read of what you said, I very appreciate what you did, and so brave that U did separate every part of tango shoes, especially Comme Il Faut. :-(…. As a shoes designer, I know that there are also a metal shank inside the sole which is to support the shoes shape.

    Also it’s very dangerous if any high heel without a main big nail, easy to break and make the heel separate from the shoes when you try to put the whole body weight on the back of the shoes…

    cheers,
    Linda

  6. Siduo Says:

    Hope you can read this. I am a male dancer and so far I only have got one pair of tango shoes. What makes men’s tango shoes special?

  7. Royce Says:

    Dear Siduo,

    I have never decomposed men’s tango shoes, so what I’m going to say might not be 100% accurate. As far as I know, men’s tango shoes have few things different from classical leather shoes:
    - tango shoes don’t have welt;
    - tango shoes don’t have long extended head;
    - tango shoes have leather soles (but lately there’re new style tango shoes with rubber sole);
    - tango shoes might have thinner insole compared to most of the city shoes;
    - tango shoes have no platform.

    Apart from the above differences, I think tango shoe’s structure is the same as the one of city shoes.

    Then there’re some new style tango shoes that can be fold easily. Their soles are usually made of very soft material, and the metallic shank spring is replaced by a piece of thick leather or other material. They are almost like sneakers but made of leather, some have a more classical look and some just looked like sneakers.

  8. Beverley Says:

    I was told by an artisan tango shoe designer in Buenos Aires that a major difference between women’s tango high heels and ballroom shoes is that a tango shoe has a shorter metal shank than the one in a ballroom shoe. The shorter shank allows increased flexibility along the foot, necessary to Argentine tango but not necessary to ballroom dances. (There are also other differences such as where the high heel is positioned to take the dancer’s weight. A good tango shoe, like Comme Il Faut, allows the wearer to rest her weight inside the shoe’s heel, so that her body weight is better spread along the shoe’s sole and not shoved hard down onto the balls of her feet. This decreases metatarsal pain and protects the foot’s health.)

    When buying tango shoes in North America that are unknown brands in Argentina, I am concerned that I’m being sold what is in fact only a ballroom shoe, ie a shoe with a longer shank. I discovered also that tango shoes made in Uruguay (Tara Tango) do not have a shorter ‘tango’ shank.

    Another concern I have is that online tango shoe sellers outside Argentina never state on their websites where their tango shoes are made. Origin of these shoes is also not stamped anywhere on the shoe. So, I e-mailed a few sellers before buying shoes, asking them in which country their tango shoes are made. Although American e-tailers are usually more than happy to answer queries about products, not one online American tango shoe seller answered this very important question.

    Knowing where shoes are made aids buying decisions because different countries use different manufacturing methods, some superior and bedded in tradition, others indulging in the cheapest methods, shortcuts and materials. Why pay $200. for shoes made in China (worth $40. at most in quality terms) when for around the same price you can buy Italian or Spanish street shoes of careful construction and fine materials? Ditto Asian versus Argentine tango heels. Our feet deserve careful buying decisions, and therefore we need more complete information before we buy tango shoes.

    Why is it that all street shoes bear a stamp of their country of manufacture but non-Argentine tango heels do not? Why aren’t tango shoe buyers demanding the same level of integrity and information from their tango shoe sellers? Surely, caring for our feet includes knowing where our tango shoes are being made. Something this obvious should automatically be disclosed to us without our even having to ask! Only then can tango shoe buyers know if, in general, the price of a specific pair of shoes matches prevailing and traditional standards of craftsmanship within a given country. Without this vital information, we cannot know whether we are buying quality or junk that ‘looks like’ a tango shoe.

    Finally, in respect of your saying that tango shoes have no platform, I wonder what you make of Tara Tango Shoes selling a few styles of tango heels that have a cork platform that is supposed to soften up and bend after a few wearings. I don’t know if these shoes work or not.

  9. Geoff Says:

    I believe that in the case of flat feet some ladies use custom made insoles. The ones I have seen are generally unnoticable with the right style of shoe.

  10. Johanna Says:

    Fascinating post! Tango CSI!!

    I don’t think there is any one rule of comfort when it concerns feet. The “perfect” shoe for one person can be a nightmare for another. Some people swear by thin cork platforms, I like to feel the floor, but use a Dr. Scholls cushion for the ball of my foot. Some people like open toes, others closed toes. For people with weak or fallen arches, lower heels may be necessary. Even the choice of upper sole (leather, pleather, suede, satin, etc.) is individual.

    I also think any comfortable shoe is a good dancing shoe, and labeling it a “tango” shoe is more of a marketing gimmick than actual structure. I only have about 5 pairs of actual “tango” shoes; the rest are “street” shoes which have stood up to the test of both abuse and comfort while dancing tango.

    Ballroom shoes are definitely constructed differently, however. They tend to be much lighter, much softer, and less structured. And they almost always have suede soles.

  11. Su Says:

    Tango shoes structure is an interesting topic for me, and I think it’s the time for me to buy a good pair of tango shoes. However, I really don’t know what kind of tango shoes is the best for the HEALTH of my feet even after viewing so many tango shoes websites and blogs. So any comments and advices from you, the experienced dancers and shoppers, will be greatly appreciated.

    I dance on the balls of my feet most of the time (as a follower) with a nice soft and flexible latin shoes with 2 inches heels for almost 4 years. Now I think it’s the time for me to buy a so called “real tango shoes” with a higher heels around 3 inches. Since I have never tried on a pair of tango shoes with either leather or suede sole, I can’t make my mind to purchase one online in the risk of making mistakes (this is probably the necessary process of experience, but after all, a pair of tango shoes is pretty costy especially after the shipping cost added if ordering from Argentina or other South American countries).

    I have learned that suede sole give the most flexibility and provides good floor control. The leather sole is rigid and slides more (for pivoting) but have longer life span.

    One thing I am confused about is if followers need to dance on the balls of the feet most of the time, would it be better or HEALTHIER to have a more flexible sole made of suede? Or, the rigid leather sole provides better arch support?

    I saw “Mr. Tango shoes” website have many options to add on the shoes such as “arch support”, “double cushionings”, “single cushionings”, “orthopetic cushioning”, and “platform” etc. Each add costs additional money. So the cost of a pair of shoes could end up closed to Comme il Faut.

    The health of the feet is my most concern. Everything else comes the second. I wonder the shoe makers like “Mr. Tango Shoes” would actually make better shoes if customers select all these options it provides. Or, does its quality actually come the same as the well know Comme il Faut, which includes all the features that “Mr. Tango Shoes” listed distinguishly?

    I have no preference or prejudice on either suede or leather sole. However, could the traditional leather sole serves the HEALTH of the dancers’ feet? Or, the more flexible suede sole does? Any comments and advices are appreciate.

  12. Royce Says:

    Dear Su,

    My personal experience is suede sole is a little softer than leather sole, but not a lot. Neither is particularly healthier to the dancers’ feet. It is a matter of personal preferences and the need of the dance. I don’t like my sole flexible, and I don’t need that, as I won’t point my toes like dancing ballet.

    I have both suede and leather sole tango shoes and I use both. I prefer leather sole just because it’s care free and more convenient. First I don’t need to clean and brush the leather sole regularly. And second, with leather sole, I can wear it all the way to the milonga like a pair of city shoes. But with suede sole, doing that will probably damage your shoes.

    Most of the time, leather sole’s performance is just as good as the suede sole. Of course, when you’re dancing on a super slippery floor, suede sole will do a better job, while wearing a pair of leather sole shoes, you will need a bit of water to help.

    For the matter of comfort, I think people should try the shoes before buying them. The best tango shoes shoes are those you tried and felt comfortable for you, be it high heels or low heels, leather or suede sole, tango brand or non-tango brand.

    Hope it helps.

    Royce

  13. LB Says:

    I’m trying to find info on what brands of women’t tango shoes are best suited for different foot types, as they all seem to have different design characteristics with this respect. In particular, I have a high arch and wide foot. My needs would be very different from a flat and narrow-footed dancer! Any info, thanks!

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