The tango shoes that give dancers “license to fly”

Maria Teresa Schuster puts on a pair of shiny silver heeled shoes and prepares to take the stage.

These shoes are a real “license to fly”, she says.

A good tango has many elements: posture, balance, the masculine role; but for many elite dancers, it’s the shoes that matter most.

“The tango shoe is something very special. It has to shine, have a nice heel, make me feel stronger, more powerful,” said Schuster, 72, a regular at the Parakultural Milonga (local tango hall). in Buenos Aires, where the world championships are currently taking place. The competition runs from September 6 to 18.

Cardiologist and pianist, Schuster has been dancing tango for 20 years.

“When I put the shoes on, I feel like someone is putting on gloves suggestively to prepare for something intense,” she said.

“Shoes are like a license to fly on earth. They have to mold to the foot, and you feel that they caress and are caressed at the same time.”

For Carla Marano, an internationally renowned professional dancer, “the shape of the leg becomes aesthetically different — better in my opinion — when dancing in heels.

“And it’s functional: dancing in high heels makes it easier to shift your balance forward, over the metatarsals and toes, which is essential in tango.”

During the pandemic, music therapist and tango teacher Marina Kenny asked a dozen top dancers to describe their relationship with their shoes for an e-book.

One of the dancers, Mariela Sametband, wrote: “Shoes are to tango what a guitar is to a guitarist, a broom to a sweeper or a knife to a chef.”

“It’s the instrument through which we express ourselves. Of course, it’s our bodies that move… but shoes are an essential vector, because they connect us to the ground.”

A specialty boutique in Buenos Aires’ upscale Recoleta neighborhood sells the iconic “Comme il faut” brand, mostly to foreign customers.

The store was opened around 20 years ago by two fellow dancers capitalizing on a renaissance of tango, after the dance waned in popularity following its heyday from 1940 to 1955.

“I was dancing tango but I didn’t like the shoes on the market, they were always black and old fashioned,” co-founder Alicia Muniz told AFP.

“I decided to make my own shoes. It took me two years to perfect the fit, the height, the comfort, then I took them to the milonga and they caught the eye.”

She began “to incorporate lace, leopard print, materials that had never been used before”, and alongside Raquel Coltrinari created the brand.

Appearances are, of course, important.

“When you dance, people look at your feet. (Shoes) are an attractive object,” Muniz said.

More than just aesthetics, shoes have a functional purpose, and their design should reflect that.

An almost indestructible steel wire is inserted into the soles, up to the toes – which cannot be pointed – while the shoe is secured with a strong strap.

All of these are essential for acrobatic tango moves.

“The soul of the shoe is the arch,” which needs to be carefully chosen to fit the arch perfectly, Muniz explained.

As for the heel, “the highest are 9.5 to 10 centimeters (3.5 to four inches). Anything more and you couldn’t dance without twisting your ankle,” said Muniz, who also makes shoes. for men with slight elevation. the heel.

According to tango teacher Moira Castellano, “heels can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy.”

“Comme il faut” – a name borrowed from the title of a 1917 tango performance about a lost Parisian love – sells around 15,000 pairs a year, exporting to Europe, Japan and the United States.

It also provides professional dancers in Buenos Aires.

Tango accessories have become “a niche, a business,” says Kenny, who wrote the book on tango shoes.

The industry is a far cry from the poor migrants in Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century, who are said to have invented the tango and performed it in their regular shoes.

No matter how important shoes are, however, they should never get in the way of “the immense pleasure” that dancing brings, says dancer Analia Vega.

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