So one of the major problems (I say problems facetiously) with tango is that, at least for most women, it forces you to spend exorbitant amounts of money on tango shoes.
Much of what is pretty about tango, to the onlookers, is the feet of the dancers. There's a very specific style of foot movement that goes with the dance (not just the steps, which is something different all together). The weight is nearly always on the ball of one foot, and the one that isn't bearing weight, especially if still, is usually tilted to the inside edge. That edge will often be brushed along the floor or sometimes along a partner's leg or shoe.
What this means, then, is that your feet have to be pretty to look at. It's a truth--though perhaps a slightly depressing one--that I (for one, although I think this is a general truth) am much less likely to enjoy watching you dance if you're wearing plain and/or ugly shoes, no matter how good of a dancer you are.
I got my first pair of Comme Il Faut (more on them in a minute) last November. All the sudden, my dancing improved quite a bit. For one, I was more aware of what I was doing with my feet, which meant I was making more elegant movements (or so I'm flattering myself). For another, it was much easier to dance in them than in the ancient character shoes I had worn before.
Purchased from, and photo by, Felina Shoes
They don't look this pretty anymore, mostly because the flour we spread on the concrete floors to make them danceable turns the suede grey, even after I brush them as clean as I can get them.
They're easier to dance in for a few reasons. One, the sole is incredibly flexible, which is important. Try taking a pair of street heels and bending the toe up. Most of them are about as flexible as blocks of wood (and you can see what this does to one's dancing when you see people foolishly trying to move in them). Two, they're soled in leather so that you can slide and turn on a dance floor (rubber doesn't let you turn). Three, because of the pitch of the shoe, you're already balanced on your toes, which is where you're going to be while dancing tango anyway.
Those are the practical reasons. The other, huge reason is that they're just damn sexy. Observe:
All of the shoes in this post, incidentally, are Comme Il Faut. Long before I even really knew how to tango, I knew that Comme was the top of the line as far as women's tango heels go. (I don't recall how I found this out--probably a Google exploration). There are a few other big names, but Comme has achieved a cult status similar to Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin in the real world.
They're handmade in Argentina, for one thing. They're also made quite well; I've heard stories of people teaching in the same pair for 8 hours a day for years on end. The designs are infinitely sexier than almost all of the other tango shoes I've seen. They're also almost cheeky in their design choices, using extensive embellishments or unusual material or color combinations. Nearly all of their heels are a stilleto (instead of the much less graceful Louis heel).
They've also worked very hard to maintain an air of exclusivity. They only make 30 pairs of each design, so it's rare that you'll come across someone with the same pair as you. They don't let their retailers post full pictures of their shoes online to keep others from stealing their designs (this is also why I've had a bit of trouble finding the pictures I wanted for this post). I have heard, although I can't confirm, that their boutique in Buenos Aires has only about five pairs in a display case; instead of browsing their selection, you tell them what you're looking for and they go back and bring out pairs they think you'll like. It's also rumored that they only bring out the best pairs for the most stylish women.
Another nice thing about their designs is that they take into account the fact that the heels are most often seen from behind, so they'll often embellish the back of the heel cage.
Part of tango fashion also seems to be picking up some color or pattern in the heels and echoing it in your outfit.
Jennifer Richard photography (hereafter, JR). Worth clicking to view the larger image.
One of my favorite pairs I've seen is below, worn by one of the instructors at the Tango Festival, Naomi Hotta.
Something about the harlequin pattern, especially worn with such a simple outfit, seemed so fun and elegant at the same time.
Looking over this post, I'm not sure that I've explained quite well enough why I--and so many other women--drop $200 or more on these shoes without a second thought, or why one pair is simply not sufficient. At any rate, I'll leave you with a shot of my second pair. They weren't what I was looking for--I wanted some in regular leather, so that I could wear them on a floured floor and not worry about ruining them, perhaps with some of those scrolls on the back--but these were so pretty that I couldn't pass them up.