17 sep 2008

Prompted by a recent post by a buddy who was lamenting the necessity of getting some "ugly ass" practice shoes, I started thinking about apparel and its relation to dance.

I've gone on the record as being unswayed by the manner of ones appearance insofar as fashion is concerned. This, undoubtedly, is due to a large part because I am male. Not that I can't appreciate someone who has obviously gone to pains to make themselves well presentable. But as far as tango is concerned, there are certain possible repercussions from putting dress first.

I recall one instance where in the middle of a dance my lovely partner whispered a request that I press her close and limit my movement. Was she feeling particularly affectionate and wishing to be a bit more intimate? Nice to think so, but no--in fact, she was having a bit of a wardrobe issue as her strapless dress was beginning to succumb to gravity.

I see instances with some frequency--almost always with women--where the clothes become a liability. Heels getting caught in flowing pant legs or dresses, excessively tight skirts restraining the extension of steps, spaghetti straps which constantly fall off the shoulder. Other factors, such as hair, can cause problems as well. I have danced with women who put their hair up in such a way that it impaired my range of vision.

Then there are the shoes. Oh, how women lurve their tango shoes! But I sometimes wonder if that can turn out to be a hindrance to their progress, especially if they make the investment in some high quality, high fashion (re: expensive) tango shoes very early in their stage of learning. I'm just thinking, if it were me and the only dance shoes I had cost me a couple hundred bucks, I don't know how willing I'd be to put them through the brutal paces that working on the dance demands. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this, but I wonder, for example, if dancing in beautiful new shoes makes you less willing to pass through a tight collect position for fear of scuffing them, or reticent to propel yourself strongly for fear of wearing out the heel or loosening the support. In a nutshell, I wonder whether the concern for the welfare of the shoes outweighs the concern of the mechanism of the dance, at least initially (when the shoes are sparkling new).

Another thing I wonder about is how one weighs priorities when choosing shoes. Of course, comfort, balance and utility are priorities when making one's considerations, but how much is one willing to compromise for shoes that dazzle them on a sheer aesthetic level? Or by sheer status level? By that I admit, I am thinking specifically of Comme Il Fauts, which are considered the epitome of tango fashion. Not to knock them, I think they well deserve their reputation. But it seems that plenty of newbies will not consider anything but the CIFs, partly because of their name. Granted, it's understandable that given the fact that quality tango shoes aren't cheap one would want to spend their money wisely, and if you're going to have only one or two pairs might as well get "the best." But from what I understand, CIFs aren't really ideal for all approaches to the dance. Indeed, my (very limited) perspective is that they are great for elegant salon styles that emphasize walking movements, but seem as if they'd be something of a hindrance to more dynamic approaches given the trademark height of the heels. And seeing that plenty of dancers--particularly young dancers--like using a lot of energetic movements, it would appear that CIFs wouldn't be the most versatile choice of footwear in a milonga.

(Of course I could be completely wrong on this--and of course, good dancers can dance in anything).

I may have mentioned this before, but since I seem to have a habit of repeating ideas in posts I'll say it again... I've found that many, if not most, of the really advanced followers I know tend to prefer a shorter heel. It's exactly the opposite of what I remember hearing when I was still new to tango, that in BsAs the locals could tell the tourists at a milonga by the size of their heels; that is to say, real porteñas--real experienced tango dancers--wore their heels sky high. I wonder if women new to the dance sometimes want to assert their "belonging" to the dance by wearing the highest heels they can find, as if to prove they really are tangueras. Whereas women who have more experience with the dance and are well established in "the scene" no longer feel the need to prove themselves to anybody and are more concerned with shoes that afford them the most freedom of motion and will accommodate the greatest range of dancing styles.

Looking over what I've written so far, I realize that I am being very gender specific in my ruminations. Perhaps that's unfair. Certainly, I have seen men who have made curious selections regarding wardrobe, but it's a lot less common. Guys, being guys, typically go for comfort. We tend to be a lazy lot, and as long as we are clean and unoffensive to the olfaction we trust, and appreciate, you beautiful women to tolerate us. At any rate, I'd lurve to hear other thoughts on this...


Frances R said...

A couple of anecdotes on the topic:

Somewhere during my first 6 months in tango I was sitting at a milonga, wearing a pair of very ordinary looking dancing shoes (with laces and 2 inches heels). A man asked me to a tanda, I said yes... and suddenly he looked at my feet, and said in a strict voice: "Are you are tango dancer? Do you know how to dance tango??". I smiled, and replied that he was about to find that out.
After we danced, he said very apologetically that he found out I was indeed a great tango dancer, and that he would be happy to dance with me again. Meself, I was not so sure about the latter :)

Another time, I took a followers' workshop with Romina H. One lady brought new shoes to break out, and was going on about being afraid of scratching them, etc. And right there Romina exclaimed: We are dancers! We ruin the shoes, we scratch the floors... Dancers do not care about such things! They care about dancing. With everything they got.
How very true, I thought.

Malevito said...

Hi frances r, how are you?

Funny how shoes are so tied to the distinction between dancer/non-dancer. One of the most experienced dancers I know *never* buys shoes that are made specifically for tango. She told me that Kely Posadas does the same. Personally, I never make assumptions, which is why I almost never dance with strangers, and absolutely never sight unseen on the dance floor.

Romi is one of my mentors. She has a perspective that is like a laser--cuts through all the flourish and distraction to get to the essence of things. Whenever I'm mulling something over I can always bring it to her and get a crystal clear outlook on the subject.

As far as the tendency to want to protect beautiful possessions, I think it's a natural response. But I think of folks like Andy Goldsworthy who is very reconciled with the transitory nature of the beauty he creates, or ice sculptors and the like. Or like the restaurant on Puerto Madero where they carved ships out of butter. I figure, these things are dressed up for the pleasure of the beholder (and in a different way, that of the creator) but ultimately they have their primary function, which is the reason for their existence and thus the best way for them to be utilized. I think that's generally a good thing to keep in mind.

Anyway, thanks for the comments :)

tangocherie said...

I don't think that experienced dancers ever think about scuffing their shoes. Dance shoes are to be danced in. Maybe if you have only one pair of tango shoes that you wear for lessons, practice, and milongas and you can't afford another pair, then maybe you think about it. But if you are that broke, why are you spending so much on lessons?

Re: CIFs--generally the porteñas can't afford them. So the idea of local dancers wearing only expensive stilletos isn't accurate. They've recently zoomed way up in price (like everything else down here), but there are many other brands of stylish shoes with varying heel heights that one can "make do."

I haven't bought any CIFs in quite a while, but I usually recommend to students that they at least go and try some on. For one thing, the heel is in the right place. For another, because the heel is so high, you can more easily rest for a second by putting the heel down.

If you notice the feet of the "famous" dancers, they are as high on their toes as ballerinas--the ball of the foot never sees earth.
So in my opinion, the high heel helps you keep your weight forward and on your toes and ready for the next lead from your partner.

Malevito said...

Hi Tangocherie, how are you?

I was pretty sure that experienced dancers never worry about scuffing their shoes, but was wondering if that may be a factor for newer dancers considering the beauty, expense, and also perhaps the novelty factor of being her/his "tango shoes." Certainly, that may be just me projecting a hangup of mine, not necessarily regarding shoes but with anything I get that is new I tend to baby it for a while.

I didn't mean to imply that porteñas wear CIFs (and in fact, I've posted elsewhere about my observations about shoe differences between foreigners and locals, particularly regarding cost consciousness), only that the conventional "wisdom" back in the days was that porteños/as used the height of the heels to visually gauge whether one was more likely or not to be a tourist in the milongas. Certainly, my opinion on CIFs in particular is rather mixed, but mostly due to the issues around the shoe (or perhaps more accurately, the "fashion politics") than to the shoes themselves, which are undoubtedly of excellent quality. And yes, the expense is pretty formidable--I know some very good and successful teachers in BsAs that don't tend to wear them primarily for that reason.

As far as resting the heel, I know that's a women's technique issue (and actually a men's technique issue as well) and opinions vary all over the place. A lot of women I know tend to utilize the heel a lot in their dancing. Of course, the forward weight distribution facilitates all the pivoting of which the women get the lion's share, and provides a quicker base for reaction given the smaller concentration of weight, although my thought at the mo is that the latter is really only a factor when moving very quickly. My personal opinion is in favor of judicious use of the heels for both men and women. But of course, everybody has to find what works best for them.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean about the feet of the "famous" dancers. Do you mean that they walk and pivot on their toes and not on the balls of their feet? Not only does that seem terribly difficult (and painful), but very unnecessary as well. Perhaps I'm reading you wrong...

Anyway, thanks for sharing your observations :)