How to Choose Dance Shoes When Starting Out Argentine Tango

There are really tons of good information about shoes out there, I will add only my personal views about shoes here in this post.

The Two Functional Requirements of Tango Shoes

To me, dance shoes exist so that we can dance better. You may be surprised actually socks and bare feet are not the best options in terms of dancing Tango. Granted they both allow you to fully flex your feet, which is essential for any dancing. However these two options don’t provide the pivotability we need for dancing Tango. Functionally, here are the two requirements I look for in any pair of shoes I would wear to Tango:

1. Flexibility

We need our Tango shoes to be flexible in the middle so that we can gain the power of propulsion by pushing/using the floor. Remember the last time you saw a fashionable girl walking down the street on super high heel with really thick and hard bottom and you were wondering how they can even move? You were right.

2. Pivotability

A more recent development in Tango is that we pivot, and we pivot A LOT! In the old days, because of floor conditions, level of shoe construction technology, and other reasons I really should not conjecture, Tango dancing did not involve so much pivoting. Now that good technique involves lots of pivoting, what we need is a sole that allows it. When thinking about pivotability, I think about two things, the smoothness of the sole and the hardness.

    1. Smoothness – A mentioned earlier that socks were not one of the best options because the structure of our feet affects our pivotability. We need a bottom that is smooth enough to pivot. Which doesn’t mean there cannot be gaps in between though like in some sneakers including dance sneakers.
    2. Hardness – I found that the part where the ball of your feet contact the floor needs to be of the “right” hardness. Too hard will restrict flexibility we talked about before. Too soft it’s difficult to pivot well because the smoothness maybe compromised.

Now you can see why most high end Tango shoes have a leather bottom. It’s because a leather sole does provide the above two qualities.

Simple Answer

There are many discussions I can have about shoes. But let’s keep it simple for you 😉

What To Wear As a Lead

  • If you are going for a casual look, buy a pair of Puma or Nike or find a pair of shoes that meets the flexibility and pivotability requirements and tape the bottom with masking tape.
  • If you like more classy look, buy a pair of <$70 ballroom shoes.
  • If you can afford it, get real Tango shoes.

What to Wear As a Follow

You don’t necessarily have to wear heels as a follow. I want to say this upfront. But I had teachers who said it’s easier for a follow if he/she wears heels.

If you want to wear heels:

  • Buy a pair of street shoes that meets the flexibility and pivotability requirements and tape the bottom with masking tape.
  • Buy a pair of lower heel <$70 ballroom shoes.
  • If you can afford it, get real Tango shoes.

Longer Answer

What To Wear As a Lead

Most guys I know do not own that many pairs of Tango shoes. Because they can last forever. Jonas said the fastest time he worn out a pair of real Tango shoes was two years. It took him that long and wore them to dance 3-4 nights a week.

And I am telling you there are well known professionals  who dance in Puma with duct tape on the bottom. I personally don’t like duct tape, which I have tried, and much prefer masking tape which I have danced in for two years. Note that you need to find Puma/Nike/other shoes that is thin and flat on the bottom though. The reasoning behind my recommendations is:

  1. They are easy to find.
  2. They are economical.
  3. There are many styles you can choose from.

Ballroom shoes is another option. But the price point (~$120) is getting too close to real Tango shoes to worth it. If you can afford it ($200+) and think you are here to stay, buy a pair of Tango shoes. Since it lasts forever anyway, the next time you will go buy a new pair might be is when you get bored with them.

Here is a video of the style of Puma Jonas owned for dancing Tango. And we highly recommend that you check this video out! 😀 Unfortunately this style is not available anymore.

What to Wear As a Follow

When I first started dancing Tango, I had already ballroom danced for five years. So I Tangoed in my ballroom shoes for maybe half year before I invested in my first pair of real Tango shoes. I remember one leader friend commented how much nicer it felt for him when I was pivoting on my new pair of real Tango shoes. That said, a pair of not so expensive ballroom shoes is the best option considered all tradeoffs. My reasoning is this:

  1. Heel height – If 3.5 inch heels is not your forte yet, most likely you can’t balance very well doing all these walking and pivoting on them. If you can’t balance, it is hard for your body to gain the right kinesthetic memory to improve your dancing. Ballroom shoes usually is lower in height. My recommendation is any height you feel you can balance pretty OK.
  2. Heel size – Tango shoes tend to have tiny heel caps. And it is harder to balance on them. Bigger heels are across all ballroom shoes. It provides better stability and balance. Besides, your shoes will last longer if you are balance and stable.
  3. Price – Of course if you can afford a ~$200 price tag, go for it. If not, an OK/good pair of ballroom shoes is about $60 depends on if you buy it on sale and where.
  4. Durability – Most likely your first pair of shoes are going to be destroyed very quickly. Even more experienced dancers have to buy new Tango shoes every so often. I’ve heard other professionals who had to buy a pair every three months. So it’s better to destroy a ~$60 dance shoes than ~$200 early on, and pay the necessary dues 😛

Where to Shop for Dance Shoes if You Live in the Bay Area

Shopping for dance shoes is a good learning experience. If you have not bought any dance shoes before, I recommend going to the stores and learn as much as possible from the shop keepers and the experience itself about how to choose dance shoes. It is very important that the shoes you choose fit you well. That’s why both Jonas and my recommendation is that you buy your first pair in a store. The experience will serve you well in the future and the new pair of shoes can serve you for a much longer period of time.

Here is a great article on where to buy dance shoes in the Bay Area. I will add my two cents.

  • I bought my first ever pair of dance shoes in Ballroom Dance Supply (BDS). Yes about what Anna said. Though I still think it’s a decent ballroom dance shoes place.
  • Capezio is not my favorite brand at all. My recommendation is to avoid it.
  • Somehow SF Dance Wear is missing from the list, which is located inside SF.

If you decided to buy ballroom shoes, here are my brand list for you:

  • Stephanie
  • Very Fine (I never owned a pair though)
  • BDS (my first ever pair of dance shoes)
  • Werner Kern (only if you have narrow feet)
  • Bloch (some styles)

If you decided to buy Puma and really know your shoe size and cannot find anything in the stores:

If you decided to buy real Tango shoes:

  • Jennifer Olson is where I go shoe shopping in the Bay Area. She has a vast collection so the shopping experience will be awesome. Also she is very knowledgable. Contact her at or (971) 219-7075.  And please say hi for Jonas and I 😀

Checklist When Choosing Dance Shoes

Here are what I consider when I go shopping for shoes.

  • Fit – Your shoes should fit snugly but not tightly so that when you pivot your shoes go with you. Test it before you buy if possible.
  • Arch support –  Lead’s shoes can range from having very little arch support to some. Follow’s shoes are constructed with a sturdy metal shank in the arch to give firm support. Proper arch support makes a huge difference in comfort for follows. Dance/jazz sneaker/practice shoes will not have this. Still wearing unsupported arch support shoes for long period of time might bother some people’s feet.
  • Thin sole – For the sole to be flexible and for you to be able to feel the floor, a thinner sole is better.
  • Width – I have wide feet and cannot wear certain brands like Comme il faut or Werner Kern. When my toes are cramped, they cannot spread and thus my balance is compromised.
  • Feel – Imagine dancing in these shoes for hours. They have to feel semi comfortable at the least.
  • Durability – Dance shoes will stretch, in varying degree. High heels stretch much faster because our feet are naturally sliding forward in them. Also the material the shoes are made of makes a big difference for durability:
    • Top Material – Patent lasts the longest but it’s tough on your feet. Fabric like satin tends to wear out easily. Leather will be my recommendation for you.
    • Sole Material – The soles of traditional Tango shoes are made of leather. Those of ballroom shoes are made of suede. The former lasts a lot longer.
  • Pivotability – As discussed earlier. Note that leather does pivot quite a bit better than suede on hardwood floor, which most of us dance on in the US.
  • Flexibility – As discussed in the beginning of the post.

Hope you enjoy the read and feel free to ask if you have any questions 😀 Happy Shopping!

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