Sunday, August 5, 2012


"Is this a dagger that I see before me?"
A tanguera removing a pair of particularly deadly-looking--and
beautiful--shoes at the end of the evening.

In a clumsy move, I accidentally strike my big toe with the sharp heel of my other shoe while executing a cross. (I do that sometimes. I think the truth is that I'm just a klutz who sometimes manages to hide it well enough to fool people.) In the past, I might have whimpered with the pain, but tonight I manage to keep quiet, although I half-expect to see blood oozing when I next look down, between songs.

At home that night, I trim the splintered nail and remember an Argentine teacher who, when I did a similar thing once while dancing with him, told me that the tops of the older tangueras' feet are scarred with scratches from doing the very same thing. I think of the times I've been on the sharp end of other women's heels when dancing on crowded floors.

If we love tango, and dance it enough, is it inevitable that we will bleed?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tango Shoes: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Facing the approaching need to retire my custom-made shoes from Buenos Aires--which, though not entirely falling apart yet, are starting to show definite signs of wear, seeing as I've worn them nearly constantly for three years now, my true tango workhorses--and unable at the moment to return to BsAs to do some serious shoe-shopping or to visit my cobbler in person (and also dance, but whatever), I've been searching the web high and low for months, for worthy successors.

But nothing I've seen has really inspired me in ages. Nothing has jumped out at me and said "You've got to have me!" Not even any Comme Il Fauts* and certainly not any of the more solid, padded options that I prefer to wear for classes and so on--more everyday shoes. And what's the point of spending the kind of money you need for good tango shoes that you plan to wear frequently if you don't love them?

Part of the problem has been that what I really wanted was exact replicas of my own shoes. I'm like that about good clothes that I like and that work well for me; I generally just want to keep wearing exactly that forever and never have to worry about it again if I don't choose to.

(For example, if I could afford it, I'd buy a warehouse full of my favorite jeans in every likely size in case of gaining or losing weight, and never have to go jeans-shopping and struggle with cut, color, length, rise-height, etc., etc., ever again! Ah, but a girl can dream!)

Having duplicates made by the same cobbler in Buenos Aires would be possible but not very easy; I've had trouble before with the practicalities of trying to get shoes from them to me in the States.

Finally the other day I thought I'd found The Ones to replace my red custom pair (my Ferraris, I fondly call them). The new pair actually made my heart skip a beat when I saw them--the first time I've been really excited about any potential replacements since I'd begun the search. Although I wanted a few modifications, the site advertized the ability to customize, and I even came up with a back-up plan based on another of their styles, in case it was not possible to adjust that particular model the way I'd like.

Them, I knew. Those are the ones that I want. (It should always be so easy to know that a lover is right for you! But that's another conversation.) They glowed, in true lipstick-red patent leather with suede accents, like Dorothy's Ruby Slippers. The styling was pure Old Hollywood elegance. Beautifully and femininely detailed without being at all overstated, I could picture wearing them with almost everything I own for dancing, from jeans to my best formal dresses.

I had it bad for these shoes.**

When I wrote to inquire, biting my nails with anticipation, I got a very polite response the next day ... that the company is currently on a hiatus of indeterminate length.

I nearly cried. "But ... but my shoes! Those! I want those!"

I've realized that in addition to being quite picky about my tango shoes to start with--I want this heel height, not too low or too high; the heel should be solid enough for comfort but not at all clunky; I like peep toes for sexiness with some protection; I need good padding under the ball of the foot, or room to add my own; and the shoes must have some interest about them without being overly flashy--I quite like being able to have shoes that are, if not completely unique like my custom-made ones, at least a little unusual. Not just character shoes (with very little actual character) from the local dance supply shop.

Not that there's anything wrong with very basic dance shoes, especially if you're just starting out and don't know whether you want to make a big investment. How many beautiful and expensive pairs of CiFs languish in the closets of novice tangueras who bought them early on but gave up tango within the first year? Such a waste; let's hope they all go to good homes through eBay or the like.

But after these nearly seven years of dancing, it's not too much to say that my tango shoes have come to be a means of self-expression, reflections of myself, the things I value, and the way I want to dance.

That's the most personal part of why I want them to be comfortable, elegant, and of high quality; I want all those things in myself and in my dancing. And I want to be able to pick them out in a crowd the way I hope my loved ones could pick me out--my face, my voice, the things I might say.***

I think that's the real reason why I fell so hard for those red shoes: Because they looked like me, who I am on the inside--or at least who I want to be.

For now, I've tried to console myself with a quite different pair from another maker, in black. They weren't such a coup de foudre as the gorgeous red ones, but I do like the look of them very much. They seem to fit all my requirements with no design modifications, right down to the heel shape and height, along with subtle but attractive detailing. I hope they'll be good for me.****

So the quest for new red ones must simply continue. Alas, the course of shoe love never did run smooth!

TL;DR: OMG, SHOES! (Again. Still. Forever.)

* Maybe it's partly overexposure, with regard to Comme il Fauts: I regularly get e-mails from various distributors, and I wonder, sometimes, whether the brand can maintain their image of daring and unique sexiness forever when there's been such a lot of demand for them. Might the brand have jumped the shark, or is it rather that I've grown calloused from seeing so many of them? Or could it be true what I've heard, that maybe they don't let distributors sell their very best designs, keeping them for the store in Buenos Aires? (Which would be understandable...) But the human capacity for creativity is very great, and I'm very fond of my CiF babies, so I certainly hope the brand will be going strong for a long time to come!

** The final factor, of course, and not the least important, is comfort, and that you can't know until you try the shoes out. Of necessity, my love for the red beauties was born from looks alone. But immortal sonnet sequences have been written with as much grounds!

*** There's an element of competition involved too, but it's an ugly thing that I don't want to get too mired in. But I'd be lying if I tried to pretend it wasn't there.

**** Why do I always seem to fall for unattainable shoes and men? With these shoes, I move from a grand passion that perhaps burns too brightly to last long (ah, cruel fate!) to (hopefully) a happy, stable relationship with a good, solid, handsome pair that I'm sure will be excellent providers and good parents. 

...Did I just take that metaphor too far?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

At the festival, with Charles

His nametag shows the formal version of the name of a famous cartoon character. Completely bald, his eyes ringed by round-framed glasses, tall but standing slightly stooped, he even looks like a grown-up version of the character. As I recall (but maybe I'm just wishing for this part) he's even wearing a pale yellowish shirt with a broad stripe across the chest.

I can't believe my eyes. I have to ask whether that is his real name.

"No," he answers, smiling. He says that he just likes to have some anonymity at festivals like these.

As we practice the instructor's newest idea, I stumble in a simple step and reflexively apologize.

"There's no room for apologies in tango," he gently chides. "If I apologized every time I messed up, people would think the refrain of the song was 'Sorry!'"

I laugh and thank him, unable to resist adding, "You're a good man, Charlie Brown!"