One of the hardest things for me about Latin ballroom dance is honestly the shoes. Above is my shoe collection — priced at well over $1,000. And I don’t keep buying more because I have some kind of stiletto fetish, believe me. I just absolutely cannot, no matter how hard I try, find a pair of high-heeled open toed sandals that I can dance in. My problem is that I have extremely small ankles, but the width at the ball of my foot is normal. So narrow shoes pinch very badly at the toe and start to give me bunions if I wear them too often, but regular-sized shoes are way too large at the heel and don’t keep my heel secure, so that at times, my foot has almost lifted completely out of the shoe, resulting in a near-twisted ankle. Also, I have an extremely high arch, so if the material at the front of the shoe does not extend well enough up the middle of my foot, the front of my foot will pop out of the shoe when I point. Finally, I have long toes, so in open-toed shoes, my toes tend to extend out the front of the shoe, hitting the hard-wood, sometimes resulting in splinters short-term, bone spurs on my big toes in the long term. Yet, if I were to get the shoes in a bigger size, the heels would be way too big, resulting in the twisted ankle problem.
The only pair of shoes that have ever worked at all for me are the Capezios, in the picture on the bottom right with the tango toe in twisted copper and navy blue. But Capezio is no longer making that style in a soft-soled Latin ballroom shoe — it now comes only in hard soled cabaret-style shoes. Still, they weren’t perfect — the tango toe was a bit hard to point in and the material at the toe was so hard that they ripped the cuticles on my big toe, forcing me regularly to pad my big toes with moleskin, even after a year of wearing them, when they were well worn-in. Not the most attractive look, but at least the heel held my heel and I never nearly twisted my ankle. Interestingly, the Capezio’s — the shoe that worked the best while it was still being made — are, at $90, are the second least expensive pair (Blochs were $85; most expensive were LaDucas at $290).
To the immediate left of the Capezios are a strappy pair of International brand which are way WAY too tight at the ball of my foot, completely cutting off my circulation and forcing me to hobble around after half an hour of wearing them. After a couple of weeks of trying to break them in, I couldn’t feel the front of my foot. I went to a podiatrist, who laughed at the shoes when I pulled them out of my ABT dance bag. Shaking his head, he told me it was no wonder I was losing sensation in the foot. I told him all Latin shoes were this way. He told me no serious worries, loss of sensation in the foot did not amount to loss of motor function. So, basically, just because I couldn’t feel my feet didn’t mean I wouldn’t be able to walk.
Next, atop the Internationals, are a brand called Gamba or something like that (I honestly can’t remember all the brands I’ve tried). Basic problem with those is that they don’t hold my foot in them — kind of defeating the purpose of having a shoe in the first place: the straps are too far apart at the toe, so my toes come straight out of the edges of the shoe; if I have the ankle strap buckled tightly enough so that my foot doesn’t come out the front, it cuts off my circulation and sometimes literally creates a bloody mess. Exact same problem with the Freeds, to the right of the Gamba’s.
Proceeding to the top circle, from left to right. On top left are black tango shoes. These, and the LaDuca’s next to them have the best heels — only 2 inches tall and wide, allowing me to keep my balance. However, the tango shoes, though fitting at the heel, are too narrow at the toe (I have 1/2 hour tops of wearing them before I’m in such pain I can’t walk, let alone dance). The LaDucas work okay, but if I’m ever going to compete, closed toed shoes in Latin are an absolute no no. In any event, LaDucas all come in medium width, making them too wide at the heel for me. I had to take them back to the store three times to have more holes created in the strap so I could buckle them tighter and tighter, but now, because of that slightly off center t-strap, they’re pulling too much at the toe, creating serious toe pain. However, LaDuca guy told me I need the t-strap shoe, because, in the shoe sans t-strap, my foot will pop out the front when I point.
Next to LaDucas are the Blochs. Bloch just started making ballroom shoes, and I was told by the clerk these were the ones the ABT ballerinas wore in “Fancy Free.” However, upon seeing the ballet recently during ABT’s City Center season, and sitting practically onstage, I can assure her that only Angela Snow, who danced the very small part at the end of the ballet, was wearing these — and she looked very wobbly in them. Indeed, the heel is so narrow, it’s nearly impossible to stand on let alone dance on. Also, long toes come out the front of the strappy straps. Also, these, when buckled as tightly as I need to buckle them to keep my ankle secure, rip into the vein running underneath my ankle.
To the right of the Blochs are the second pair of Freeds. These are fine except the front of my foot, from ball to toe pops out of the front of the shoe when I point because of my high arch. So, after pointing, I somehow have to nonchalantly stomp on the front of the shoe to get my foot securely back in — which I don’t think will look too keen during competition or performance. Also, Freed does not design their buckles well. In neither Freed shoe style can I buckle the strap when it’s tightened tight enough to keep my heel in place. So, I can only get the metal thingy in the middle of the buckle into the hole, without being able to get the strap then back through the buckle. Looks stupid, and, needless to say, is not very secure.
To their right are the fancy pair of Internationals. These are so high (3 1/2 inches) that I really can’t balance. Plus, I’m taller than all of my male partners in them. Plus, the toe is not flexible enough and doesn’t allow me to point properly. Plus, the toe is sooooo open, my foot comes forward and out the front leaving my heel insecure risking the twisted ankle.
Finally, all the way at the top right are these Mootsies Tootsies brand (can’t remember the exact name but it’s something like that). Everyone makes fun of me when I wear them because they’re not a serious competitor brand (as the name implies), but a social dance brand. I didn’t care when I bought them; I was just desperate for a shoe that fit, and they seemed to in the store. But, as I learned, when dancing my rhumba routine with Pasha, the soles are so soft that they buckle under my foot. At one point, while trying to do a sexy rhumba walk around him, the toes of my right foot pointed (in arabesque position — so foot was behind me), and, as I brushed my foot forward through the floor, toes went completely through the straps, leaving the shoe under my foot, the ankle strap ripping through my skin while my foot went forward without the shoe. I literally tripped and fell.
“Tonya, you must get used to one pair of shoes,” Pasha always used to tell me. Having some kind of a shoe malfunction was nothing new with me, so he almost laughed with the Mootsies Tootsies mishap. Okay fine, but which pair? If I force myself to ‘get used’ to the wrong pair I could end up with a twisted ankle, severe bunions, or complete loss of foot sensation.
Oh, why can’t I just wear these! I know, not exactly attractive paired with a sexy Latin costume… I often wear the soft jazz shoes (on right), or teacher ballet shoes, which have a slight heel and suede bottoms allowing them to glide over hardwood floors (on left), but then when I go to practice the routine in the proper shoes (ie: evil Latin stilettos), I’m two to three inches taller and the partnership is all off. When I practiced my snake with Luis (where he dips me sideways, then I slither down and go through his legs, ending up behind him), we did it a bizillion times perfectly in my soft jazz shoes. When I started wearing the high Latin heels, I was suddenly banging my head into his crotch on the way through…
Well, one fun thing about these street Samba classes I’ve been taking recently at Ailey, is that, I just wear these:
No super skinny heel that I can’t balance on, no toe straps to fall through, no ankle straps to slice my skin, and, most of all, really inexpensive!