A Little Time Off . . .

This page is on hiatus while I take care of some medical concerns. I hope to be back and updating again soon. Thank you so much for your support and patience. --M

How to Design your own Tango Shoes

(Note: The examples I write about, and the pictures included in this post, are designs I created for Mr. Tango Shoes. I am a distributor for their shoes online here and locally in Austin, Texas.  However, the advice, including how to measure your feet and choose materials, is applicable to any custom made shoe company. I list some other companies at the bottom of this post, for reference.)

A little background

I have duck feet. Fussy, hard-to-fit, cranky duck feet. Narrow heel with a wide forefoot, shopping for shoes was a misery. Three years ago, I bought my first pair of made-to-order tango shoes and they changed everything.

As soon as I had custom shoes on my feet, I knew I would never go back to "off the shelf" shoes. All of my dance shoes are custom-made and now most of my dress street shoes are custom-made as well. Through Mr. Tango Shoes, I get my flashy, wild tango shoes, as well as my Monday through Friday workday shoes. And, I can get all my shoes with memory foam padding, in a wide width - things I couldn't get from very many off-the-shelf companies. 

For example, the two pictures below are both current models on Mr. Tango Shoes website, but done is solid black, they look just like street shoes (but far more comfortable and well-fitting.) 

"Arrabalera" in smooth black leather, 2" wide copa heel.

"Pucca" model in black suede and black fishnet. 2" wide copa heel.

So if you want to design your own custom shoes, how do you start?  There are 2 steps to take before you begin your journey:

First step: Look in your own closet. Which shoes fit you best? What are they shaped like? How high are the heels - and what type of heel do they have? Do you see a common theme in the shoes you like most? Do you see a lot of t-straps? Rounded-toes? Pointy-toes? Open-toes? Write down the shapes and styles that make your feet the most happy.

Second step: What catches your eye on other people's shoes? What sort of look (retro, classic, cutting edge) are you drawn to? Do you like strappy sandals - or simple ones? Broguing (perforated designs in the leather)? 

Be creative, but be realistic. Keep in mind the health and comfort of your feet when branching out into new designs. While 4 inch high, pointy-toed shoes might look fantastic, if your feet can't tolerate them, you'll be miserable dancing in them.

The Design Process (for Women's Shoes):

1. Type of toe-box: open toe, closed toe, peep toe. 

If you have wide feet, or boxier-shaped fore-foot, an open toed shoes will have a little bit more room to maneuver. Open toed shoes also offer the best "floor feel" for a lot of dancers. They are the easiest shoes in which to spread the toes and really feel the floor. However, they offer the least amount of protection for your toes - not only from the cold, but from newer leaders' missteps.  Peep toes can offer a little breathing room, but still give the tops of your toes some coverage. Overall, however, they will tend to fit more snug as a closed toe shoe would.

"Aggressive" model in beige and soft gold leathers, with a broad peep toe. "Francia" model in reptile silver leather and beige suede, with black suede insole and open toe. "Azabache" model in beige smooth leather with closed toe.

Open toe: Most freedom for toes --- less protection
Peep toe: Breathable, cooler, but less freedom -- moderate protection of toes.
Closed toe: Least amount of room for toes --- best protection of toes.

The best advice I can offer on closed-toe shoes, choose shoes with toe boxes that match the shape of your feet. You want to be able to move your toes not only for the health of your feet, but for your stability and comfort.

2. Type of heel cage: open heel cage or closed heel cage.

A closed heel cage offers the most stability and durability for dancers. However, open heel cages look fashionable, feminine and can be adjusted more easily for those dancers who often have trouble with heel cages fitting poorly. It's a matter of personal preference.  If you do try open-heel cages, make sure the shoes fit very well, and your foot doesn't slide too much around the heel base.

"Mayumi with Borders" in turquoise fabric, champagne fabric, and patent black trim, with closed heel cage.  "Tatiana" models in denim metallic blue leather, featuring an open heel cage.  Both in 3" narrow copa heel. 

Closed: Best durability, stability and support. (Also more area to play with design.)
Open: More adjustable. 

3. Materials -- the fun part!!

First, take a moment to think about where you will want to dance in these shoes. For example, are these going to be your go-to shoes for every kind of venue, and on any kind of floor?  The choose a material that is durable, like leather. Are they for a special occasion - or a particular outfit? Then durability might not be much of an issue and fabric choices might work well.


Some of the leathers available from Mr. Tango Shoes.

If these shoes are going to take a beating, stick with leather throughout. Not only will the leather be more durable, but it can repaired, refinished and dyed more easily than any other material.

Patent Leather
Patent is a beautiful choice, but it's rigid texture disguises its fragility. Patent leather can be prone to cracking, scratching, and becoming brittle. However, if you take great care of it (usually all it needs is regular rubbing down with petroleum jelly or the like), it can be restored to almost new. Keep in mind if you use patent leather on the toe box or heel cage where the feet are likely to rub together when you "collect" your feet - the shoes will stick to each other. A small dose of petroleum jelly will solve that problem too. 

If you have options in polyurethane, the same advice applies - taking care of the material will ensure it holds up well. One note on fit - patent leather and PU will not "break in" like leather and suede. How they fit the day you buy them is how they will pretty much always fit.


Some of the suedes available from Mr. Tango Shoes.

Do you need a pair of shoes that will accommodate hard to fit feet? If you have bunions, hammertoes or similar issues that alter the shape of your feet, softer suede might be more accommodating. Suede softens and conforms to the feet more quickly and easily than smooth leather, or fabric (which is often treated to make it rigid.) The downside, suede will wear out and stretch out somewhat faster than smooth leather. If you take care of it with weatherproofing and consistent cleaning, it will hold up very well, but suede does require more care.


Fabric usually offers the most fashion-forward options, and the best selections for customizing to particular outfits. One piece of advice for tango wardrobing, if you choose a "signature color" that is flattering and boosts your confidence, it can save you money on clothing and shoes. Aside from the usual black, white or other neutral shades - you can use your signature color in your accessories and your shoes to look completely coordinated and "pulled together." 

Fabrics don't tend to hold up as well as leather or suede. They can be weather-proofed regularly (once every month or two), to extend their life, but they will show wear more quickly. Patterns will disguise wear better than solids, and darker colors hide wear also.

Materials Summary:

Leather: Durable, repairable, versatile. Even if the rest of the shoe is fabric or suede - consider making the high wear areas, such as the ankle strap, in leather.
Patent/PU: Supportive, eye-catching, and long lasting if taken care of.
Suede: Most fit-accommodating of materials. Molds well to the foot. Doesn't hold up quite as long as smooth leather. Requires cleaning and weatherproofing.
Fabric: most fashionable, trendy choices, great for customizing to an outfit. More fragile than the other materials. Requires weather-proofing, and cleaning. Not easily repairable.


The sky's the limit on color, but there are a few tips that might be helpful.

1. To lengthen the look of the leg - use neutral colors closest to skin tone. Most metallics will also have this lengthening effect. Keep the heel cage, and the heel itself, close to the same color/material. You can still use a more striking color on the toe box and even the insole.

2. As I mentioned above, using a single signature color can make it seem like you have a closet filled with tango shoes that conveniently match all of your clothes -- without having to go neutral or black.

3. Lighter colors and solid colors will show wear more quickly than the darker colors or patterns. That said, regular weather-proofing and cleaning will go a long way to preventing some damage.

4. Look at the shoes you wear most often - where do they show the most damage? Use darker, more durable materials there.

5. Don't forget to decorate your insoles! (See the picture at the top!) The same rules apply - light and solid colors show wear fastest - darker colors, patterns, and metallics usually hold up better in the insole. I like using lace and animal prints in the insoles - sort of like having lingerie for my shoes!


From www.mrtangoshoes.com 

For the health of your feet, and your dance, choose heels a little lower than your maximum tolerated height. You want to be able to fully articulate the foot through your steps, and if you're already at your maximum height, you won't be able to. When wearing your heels, you should be able to lift your heels (without bending your knees) at least 1/2 an inch, preferably an inch.

For "marathon" shoes, the shoes I wear for the end of festivals, or very long milongas/workshops etc., I go to a lower, broader heel. That takes some of the pressure off my feet and allows me to keep dancing longer. 

Tips for ordering custom, or made to measure shoes (from any company - street shoes, or dance shoes).

1. Have someone else trace your feet. Here is an excellent video on how to do it.  http://youtu.be/lHDmuQvV7Sg

2. Have your feet measured by a shoe seller using a Brannock device. They should give you three measurements for each foot: length, width, and arch length. Provide those measurements, along with foot tracings, to the shoe manufacturer.

Brannock Device

3. Keep track of the brand, size, and length/width measurements of the shoes that fit you really well. Made-to-measure shoe manufacturers are often familiar with competitors' sizes and those measurements can be helpful in determining your size for their brand. If you are able to, when you've worn a pair of shoes to the point of discarding them, keep the insole for reference if it is removable.

Every tanguera's essential tango shoes:

1. The "Marathon" shoe - as I wrote above, these will be built for comfort and endurance, but with tango styling.

The "Marta" with 2" thick heel, and orthopedic padding. Shoes like these will get you through that last day of a tango festival!

2. The "Nude" shoe - simply a pair of tango shoes in a material as close as possible to your skin tone. Nude shoes will make your legs look a mile long. Leathers are available in everything from champagne beige to deep bronze to mahogany -- so you can find your match!

"Athenea" in champagne beige leather with gold scale leather  trim. 

3. The "Wild" shoes. These are the attention-getters for festivals and packed milongas. Decorated heel - shiny, animal print, bright colors -- whatever it takes to get noticed.

"Athenea" in black suede, turquoise iridescent fabric, and gold scale leather trim.

4. The "Classic"  -- usually black, though not always. These often have a vintage look about them, with t-straps, peep toes, maybe even a slightly broader heel. They scream "Golden Age" and they look great with absolutely everything. (Often the "Marathon" shoe and the "Classic" combine well.)

"Aggressive" model in classic black and warm gold leather.


For a gallery of shoes I designed, with both the computer rendering, and the final shoes, click HERE

For my Pinterest galleries of designs, click HERE.
You can find the models pictured here, and many others, at Mr. Tango Shoes website.

Other places to find made-to-measure, custom shoes:

Shoes of Prey (non-dance shoes) - https://www.shoesofprey.com/
Very Fine Custom Dance Shoes - http://www.veryfineshoes.com/CustomDesigns

NEW Tango DVD's from Argentina finally in stock!

Hurry - these go fast and take forever for me to get back into stock again! (All DVD's have English subtitles and are playable in North American DVD players.)

100 Years of Tango - History and Music - DVD and CD set: $20

Hector Mayoral El Hombre Que Baila - $25

Juan Carlos Copes Tango Volumes 1 and 2 (El Musical and Tango y Milonga): $40

 Gotta Tango Book and DVD - Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart: $20

Daniel Lapadula and Dolores de Amo: 2 DVD set "Aprendiendo a Bailar Tango": $20

Asi se Baila Milonga 3 DVD set by the master of milonga, Pepito Avellaneda: $60

Fabian Salas y Cecilia Gonzalez 3 DVD set "Tango Dynamics" - $45

"Cafe Buenos Aires" - Nostalgic Sounds of Tango Porteno - 3 CD boxed set: $15.00

The Great Mr. Tango Shoes Experiment Part II - The Results!

With this last order, I wanted to not only be able to help dancers design their perfect shoes, but I wanted to give them a digital representation (basically a proof, or rendering) of their shoes before they finalized their order. In that way, they could see roughly what the shoes would look like with all of their materials and heel choices.

It was a bit harder than I thought it would be - but well worth it. . . 

I was working with pictures from Mr. Tango Shoes' website, with their permission. Some were good, some were a little more challenging. All of them were small. I then photographed all of the materials for which I had swatches available.  From those images, I created each pair of shoes that would be ordered. 

(You can see the complete order, with proofs, HERE - though most of them have sold as they were custom designs. See below for the shoes that are still available from that order:  )

I admit, I was sweating this order. If the shoes came out vastly different than the images I rendered, my customers would be disappointed, and it would mean that my software/photography processes would need serious work.

They turned out better than I had hoped - very close to their digital counterparts. There were two issues with sizing, as there often are with handmade shoes - and one instruction that wasn't able to be carried out (an adjustable buckle.) Other than that, the shoes came out spectacular. 

Below are the shoes that are available for purchase with the digital image I created on the left, and the actual shoe photographed on the right.

Carlos Model - Size 10 - in Black and White Leather

Compadrito Model - Size 9.5 - Burgundy Suede and Black Leather

Marta Model - 9.5 Wide with orthopedic padding, Gunmetal, Black and Burgundy Leather

Mayumi with Borders Model - 7 Wide - Gold, Teal fabric and Black Leather

Orquidea Model - Size 7.5 - Gold Leather and Orchid Purple Suede (this one was designed to celebrate Pantone's Color of The Year - Orchid Purple.)

Salsera Model - Size 8B - Gold Leather and Red Suede

Tatiana Model - Size 9.5 - Metallic Denim Blue Leather

And, just for reference, other models in currently in stock:

Fernanda Ghi Model (One of the shoes, Mr. Tango Shoes is famous for) - 8.5 - Gold Mesh and Black Suede.

Fernanda Ghi Model - Size 9 - Silver Fishnet and Black Suede.

Guillermo Merlo Model - Size 10 - Black Suede and Elastic Mesh

Juan Model - 8.5 Wide - Black Suede

Juan Model - Size 8 Wide - Electric Blue Suede

Mambo Model - Size 9B - Electric Blue Suede - Suede soles, and extra insole padding.

Omar Model - 9 Wide - Black Leather and Suede

Fernanda Ghi Model - Size 8 - Black Suede and Black Fishnet - suede sole.

Jorge Nel Model - Size 10.5 - Black Leather and Suede.

Pucca Model - Size 7.5 Wide - Black Suede and Fishnet Mesh

The Truth about Chinese Dance Shoes (Reviews)

If you've been dancing any length of time, you've probably seen or been told about Lightinthebox.com or, for the more adventurous and even more frugal, Aliexpress.com, a division of Alibaba Chinese import marketplace. These sites let you order a huge selection of dance shoes, often customizable, directly, or nearly directly, for the factories in China.

Why would anyone want to order shoes that they can't try on, from China, and wait 2-8 weeks for them to arrive? Because dance shoes are silly money. And the hard truth is, for salsa and ballroom shoes in particular, many brands, including Capezio, Sansha, and Burju, are made in China already. So why pay $100+ for a Chinese dance shoe, when you can pay $35-$60?

Case 1:

I decided to check these shoes out more closely when some sent me pictures of the shoes they were thinking of buying on Aliexpress. See below for why it perked my interest:

Those images are taken directly from one of the stores on Aliexpress. The label on those shoes is "Nuevo Epoca". To my knowledge, those shoes are not made in China. So what gives? Are they counterfeits? This particular image wasn't just on one storefront - it was on several.  Even if I wasn't certain Nuevo Epoca was made in Germany (it is), I could be fairly certain it wasn't being made in several Chinese factories.  Some storefronts were more honest than others. They either digitally "scrubbed" (removed) the brand name, or they actually shot pictures of their own stock.

Out of curiosity, I decided to order a pair to see what I would get. One thing to note first, and this is very common in these dance shoe storefronts - the shoes are often not leather. They will advertise "velvet" rather than "suede" or "leather". If you look closely at the Nuevo Epoca pictures, you can see the nap of the suede. In the large pictures on the Aliexpress sites, if they have big pictures, you can tell it's not suede - the texture is far more smooth. You can decide for yourself if you care one way or the other. The velvet doesn't breathe or stretch well, but it can still look quite nice for the price.

After choosing a shoe with a lower heel, this was the shoe I received 3 weeks later:

As expected, clearly nothing like the Nuevo Epoca in look or feel.

The Nuevo Epoca model shown is an older model, but that brand tends to run about $240 a pair and they have an outstanding reputation for quality. The Chinese shoes were $31.80. They feel like they're worth about $31.80. That might be a little generous. They're not terrible - they do run true to size which is unusual for the shoes on that site (and on Light in the Box - which tend to run slightly small.)  They're good for practicing and that's probably what I will do with them. There is no mistaking them for a cheap shoe, however.

Case 2:

The next case was quite different - which only serves to demonstrate the tremendous variability of quality from store to store on Aliexpress.

This is the shoe that was advertised on the store front - clearly labeled "Burju" with Burju's own advertisement photos in the description.

I was lured in by two features - complete adjustability with two buckles on the toe box, and advertised genuine leather. These were more expensive than the other shoes, about $60, but if they worked, they would be a great deal.

After about 2 weeks, this what arrived (again I ordered these in a lower heel than what was pictured.)  Unlike the red and black Nuevo Epoca knock-offs, these were (except for the missing label) almost impossible to differentiate from the original Burju shoes.  Not only that, they felt like quality shoes.  The lining was a velvet polyurethane which may or may not be the same as Burju's shoes. The shoe felt solid, balanced and best of all - very well padded. Supremely adjustable. The only thing I couldn't adjust was the length, and it was indeed too long for me. (Which broke my heart - the shoes looked amazing on.) I'm debating about selling these and buying the next size down. Honestly - that's how much I like the shoes.

So should you give the Chinese shoes a try? Maybe. They don't feel like the highest quality South American or European shoes you can buy, certainly. They are, in some cases, every bit as good as the Chinese made dance shoes sold here in the US like Capezio, Sansha and others.

Advice if you do decide to go with Light in the Box or Aliexpress:

  • What you see is not what you get. Unless the store says the pictures are of their own current stock - assume it is taken from somewhere else and not representative. 
  • One of the great things about Aliexpress and Light in the Box, is that you can get various things customized on your dance shoes - from color, to heel type and height. But read the descriptions carefully and check your order to make sure you ordered what you meant to order. Once it's shipped it's too late to change it.
  • Read the descriptions very carefully and ask sellers questions before buying.
  • Pay more for leather uppers - the feel and durability of the shoe is greatly improved.
  • Read the feedback (of the store and of the shoes themselves if available) and be wary of new shops that have no feedback yet. 
  • Check the tracking numbers to make sure they give you a legitimate one. 
  • Be willing to eat the cost if they don't work out. Returning them to China is expensive and labor intensive. Ask yourself if you're willing to lose the money if they don't work out. I have had other items go missing and never show up, but I've always been able to get my money back. 
  • Pay extra for the expedited shipping or you'll be waiting a month for them. You're also more likely to get an accurate tracking number.

A note about counterfeit merchandise:

I am no expert on counterfeit law, but I am deeply suspicious of companies that use other companies logos in their photos. Nowhere in the description were the brand names used. In the case of the Nuevo Epoca shoes, I can say with some degree of assurance that those shoes are not made in China in that factory. In the case of the Burju shoes, I am not actually sure - since those shoes are made in China. Could that store be the same factory that manufactures Burju? They have yet to answer that question, so I would assume probably not. (UPDATE: I received confirmation from the store representative (Ms. Mushroom Store), on Aliexpress.com that they do in fact manufacture several of the Burju models for that company, and others.)

When the shoes arrived, neither of them carried the brand names in question anywhere on the shoes, bags or boxes. So is it still a matter of counterfeit merchandise or false advertising? As I said, I'm not a legal expert on this, so I'm not sure. It's a shady business regardless so, as always - buyer beware.


If you go with Aliexpress or Light in the Box, you can be a little bit adventurous since the cost is a bit lower. However, if you're looking for a shoe that has reliable performance, and proven durability, I would probably skip the Chinese marketplace and go with one of the more well known brands from North or South American, Europe or Turkey.