The Life and
Death of Tango Shoes

The Life and Death of Tango Shoes

06Aug, 2021

After the long COVID hiatus, I have been dancing again. And to celebrate the return to the dancefloor, I have been taking out all my pairs of tango shoes for a spin to share the return-to-dancing love. But, I just had to admit a defeat. At least it feels that way.  It’s time for my Cinderella Tango Shoes to be retired. And yes, my tango shoes have names – at least the good pairs do. 

The Cinderella Shoes

My Cinderella shoes were one of my favorite pairs, but I feel like I let them down with a lackluster sendoff of rusty post-Covid-year dancing. They are a bit gaudy up close as most tango shoes are with pink, champagne, and gold micro glitter and satin, designed to stand out in the moody lighting of a Milonga. Tooled leather, open-toed, with a 7 cm closed heel, they made me want to sing “I Could Have Danced All Night”. They were very girly, definitely the pair I would have chosen for myself in grade school.

I remember the first time I wore them back when I was living in New York.  My friend Allan said they looked like Cinderella’s shoes, and hence they became named my Cinderella Tango Shoes. They danced many, many tangos and though they had seen better days and no longer qualified as fancy Milonga shoes, they still worked great for Practicas and Classes. Sure some of the glitter had worn off the heels from all that collecting, and they had gone through a number of heel caps worn down by embellishments. The satin had deteriorated from time and use, but I thought they were still danceable. Until I put them on one Sunday night for our local Austin Practica and took a step and realized . . . the suspension had given out. The padding underneath the ball of the foot which is crucial for hours of pivots and turns and walking backward around the dance floor on heels had become uncomfortably thin. Another pair of tango shoes needed to be retired. 

Memorable Tango Shoes

It got me thinking of other tango shoes that are no longer in active circulation: A few were non-starters, like the 8 cm red leather strappy pair with rosettes at the ankle. The problem was that the five thin straps of leather that make up the toe box circled completely under the padding and pressed into your feet while dancing. You can even see the straps in the pivot wear pattern on the button of the sole. The teal lizard-print 7.5 cm t-straps stretched out way too early because they were suede. Some shoes become relegated to Special Guest appearances like the black suede 7.5 cm pair with unusual cutouts and a ribbon that ties across the front of the ankle instead of a traditional strap.  And my Aggie Tango shoes – the maroon and gold patent striped pair with the scalloped heels that have a place of honor as decor in my bar cabinet. They turn really fast, but also have no suspension. I think of them as Ferraris. 

The Central Park Shoes

Several pairs have really good deaths worthy of the drama and passion of tango. I fondly remember the strappy neon pink patent leather 3-inch pair that were my Central Park Tango Shoes. They weren’t even real tango shoes – an Ann Taylor clearance special that I got for $20. The heel and sole were a little rigid, but probably what I needed as a beginning dancer at the Central Park Milonga. They had the necessary ankle straps to keep them on in fast turns, and I wasn’t going to wear real tango shoes on concrete. I always say – tango shoes are not street legal. 

They danced many Milongas around the Shakespeare statue at the end of Poet’s Walk, and the neon pink made me identifiable after sunset and the park lamps came on. They successfully got me through my Summer of Tango, but by that September the toe straps had broken, one by one. When I turned them over the sole had completely worn away in places, and I could even see the green foam padding of the interior of the shoe. They were proudly danced into the ground.

The First Pair of Real Tango Shoes

The other notable death was my very first pair of real tango shoes. Red leather, 1.75 inches with butterfly cutouts on the top of the toe box. They made me realize lower heels can be better when you are building strength on wobbly ankles and still give enough pitch forward to your partner. It makes a difference when you have a good solid toe box that actually supports you in your turns. Those shoes spent countless hours at New York’s Triangulo when they still had the 20th Street studio with the beautiful mural of community regulars painted as dancers in an old Argentine Ballroom Milonga. Dante, my first teacher, led me through so many “Feel the Floor” side steps that I even wore a hole in the leather on the side of the left big toe. They were perfect for VolvoTango at the Christopher Street Pier because the heels were slightly wider than the usual tango stilettos and kept me from falling through the slats between the pier boards. Their death came on a Sunday afternoon where Bobby and I decided to make the most of a nuevo tanda and dance on the uncovered portion of the dance floor during a brief rain shower. After years of hard dancing, they literally fell to pieces and the sole came away from the shoe, but it was a tango death. 

The Next Adventure

So now that I have taken a moment to mourn the Cinderella shoes, I am anxiously awaiting the delivery of 2 new pairs, bought through Axis Tango’s sample sale. I can’t wait to see the adventures they will have!