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Argentine tango shoes look like fabulous street shoes and own the same general characteristics. You may even be tempted to dance tango in your street shoes. But there are some important differences. Here are some tango shoe features to consider that may be beneficial to your dance.
Starting with the tip of the shoe we have the toe box. The toe box may be completely closed or slightly open (peep-toe). On the inside, it is usually leather lined with a material that reinforces the shape of the toe. If the shoe does not have a toe box, it means that the shoe is open-toed. The upper of an open-toed shoe may be anything from a single band to a strappy sandal. Regardless of the style, a tango shoe that fits properly will be comfortable for your toes whether they are an open or closed-toe. Often, dancers will go down a half size from their regular street shoe to achieve a fit that supports their feet. Shoes that are too wide or too open at the toe will not be supportive and will not keep the toes in the shoe. Dance shoes essentially should fit like a glove. Additionally, shoes that are too big for dancing will allow your feet to slide in the shoe and cause blisters and other foot worries.
When we describe the vamp, we are talking about the part of the upper that covers the toes. Starting from the toes, a long vamp covers more of the foot A short vamp covers a shorter distance across the instep. For dancers with bunions or high insteps, it is important to try the shoes on. A vamp that is too short may cut into the bunion. A vamp that is too long may cut into a high instep. A good fitting tango shoe will be leather lined and will eventually mold to your foot. Properly fitting shoes will allow you to flex easily at your metatarsal. Street shoes may not be designed to withstand the forces required in dance and may not necessarily break-in as a dance shoe is designed to do.
The outer sole of the shoe is referring to the underside of the shoe. Tango shoes may be available in smooth leather, suede, chromo or smooth rubber. All types of soles are appropriate for Argentine tango as long as they allow you to freely pivot on one leg. Street shoes that offer a non-skid sole are not ideal for dancing and have the potential to wrench your ankle, knee and hip joints, especially if you’re a novice. Smooth leather soles offer the least friction resistance as soon as you put them on. Suede, chromo and smooth rubber require a few days break-in, but they eventually offer more or less the same benefits of the leather soled shoes. In addition, the outer sole of the tango shoe is often thinner than a regular street shoe. This allows for a much lighter shoe that is easier to move in than a street shoe.
The shank of the shoe is the reinforced material within a shoe that provides support to the arch and prevents the shoe from bending in that place. Dance shoes with heels may be available in 3/4 or half-shanks. Half-shanks are ideal for the experienced dancer who wants to pointe and flex her toes to the extreme for aesthetics. Most shanks, however, will be 3/4. This means the shank will not extend to the toes. Quality dance shoes will have strong shanks.
The heel counter provides the shape to the heel cup. When the heel cup is not present and only a strap or a band is holding the heel, the shoe is considered a slingback. While street shoes may be fitted with room in the front or the back of the shoe, dance shoes, whether they are a full heel counter or slingback, should be fitted so that your foot fills up the entire shoe from front to back. Ankle straps come in variable positions, lengths and widths providing fashion as well as function. They are designed to hold your foot in the dance shoe like a seatbelt. When fitting for a tango shoe, you should try on several pair to see which ankle strap works best for your feet.
The heel measurement of the shoe is usually as shown in the illustration above. The heel cap is often taken into consideration in the measurement. The difference in a street shoe and dance shoe may lie in the purposeful position of the heel. Great dance shoes are well balanced. Tango heels are affixed with many nails and screws and should be absolutely secure on the shoe. The heel is positioned so that balancing on your entire foot is comfortable and easy. The heel should contribute to a gait that is elegant and confident. Tango shoes come in a variety of heights, the usual ranging anywhere between 6.5 to 9cm. 7.5cm is a comfortable height for many. This heel height offers most dancers the aesthetics of a stiletto but also allows one to balance easily on the entire foot or high on the ball of the foot when necessary.
Consider street shoes when dancing perhaps at an outdoor dance event. But for the health of your joints and ease of your dance, try a dance shoe made for Argentine tango.
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
~George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage