Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ask Helaine: How can I dance well in high heels?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

This is the first session of the new, no-cost weekly program I recently announced to my ezine readers.  Each week I will select and answer one question submitted to "Ask Helaine", and publish the question with my response to my email list on Saturday.  

(Instructions for submitting your questions are at the bottom of this email.)

Today's question is from Joanna Feldman, a tanguera in the Netherlands. 

Dearest Helaine,

I just wonder . . .
For me it’s very difficult to dance in high heels, 
and I wonder how a beautiful larger dancer, such as la maestra “La Turca”, does it.

- does she have the best, comfortable, custom-made high heels for tango?
- are her feet strong, and trained?

I would very much appreciate your help and answer.

Un abrazo grande,

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Thank you for the great topic, Joanna!  I'll answer your questions one at a time:

1)  “La Turca”, who is also known as “Marita” or “Maria del Carmen”, wears Comme Il Faut shoes - or at least she did 5-6 years ago when I worked with her often in my school UmbriaTango in Italy.  Marita told me that she always gets the best shoes from them (I don't believe she has them custom-made) and she advised me to do the same.  Another professional dancer swears by Flabella shoes for great construction. There are many quality brands available, and you can find the ones that feel best to you.  Consider good tango shoes not an expense, but an investment in your dancing!

Well-designed tango shoes have a "geometry" that really supports and distributes our weight.  There is enough room in the "toe box" to let you stretch out your toes and work them, and the high heel is positioned right under your heel bone, as if it were an extension of the bones of your leg.  All this allows you to create a triangle in your foot to support your weight:  big toe + little toe + heel.

2)  Marita has been dancing in high heels since she was a girl.  Yes, her feet look  strong to me, as do the feet of every professional tanguera that I know.

How we use our feet is critical to our balance.  Here’s a quick summary of habits you can develop to increase your stability in high heels:
  • Make sure you are putting your heels down with every step. Really do this! 
  • Keep your weight over the arches, rather than over the balls of your feet, to make sure your weight is well distributed from the front to back of your foot. (Some teachers teach “weight forward”, but I follow a style of Tango Salon that uses our natural weight distribution. So does La Turca.)
  • Learn to work your toes when you dance!  "Grab" the floor with outstretched toes, the way you might imagine that a tiger does.  Jungle cats use their toes when they walk, and so should we!  You can do toe-strengthening exercises to actually build muscles in your toes.  You’ll find many on Youtube. I have a very efficient one that made a big difference in my toe strength and my stability, that I learned from tango diva Alejandra Mantiñan
  • So then you can use your outstretched toes together with your heel on the ground to make that triangle that will give you great support.

You may want to watch other great larger dancers for inspiration, like the late Esther Pugliese, and another of my maestras, Graciela Gonzalez.

Of course tangueras of all sizes must learn to master their balance, regardless of their shoes.  When you signed on for my newsletter, you probably received my free report, "Permission Seduction Secret #1", which gives many tips for mastering your balance when walking forward. (You can get my free report by signing in to the yellow box on the upper right of this page.)

My "Advanced Tango Fundamentals" online home study program teaches women and men to master their balance when standing/pausing, walking forward, walking backward, stepping to the side, and pivoting; it's a great help to dancers with any degree of balance challenges. 

I want to mention that you don't have to wear high heels to dance tango well, as long as you feel good when you dance.  But it sounds from your email that you would like to have the choice.  And I believe that you absolutely can have the choice if you so decide!
Please let us know if you implement any of this advice and how it goes for you!
In my next article I'll advise you on how to choose (mostly women's) tango shoes!

As always, your comments are welcome below!

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Do you have a question or a challenge in your tango that I can answer for you in our new, no-cost weekly program "Ask Helaine?" 

I invite you to submit your question today!  Just copy and paste the form below into an email to  Please use "Ask Helaine" in the subject line.

The fields with an asterisk (*) are required to be completed if you want your question to be chosen.

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I really look forward to being of service to you all through this new, no-cost , weekly program!  


  1. I was always told not to let my heels touch the ground (which I found terribly difficult) so I don't dance in heels at all. I'd like to try again and found your suggestions very interesting. One question. If you do put your heels down, how do you avoid the clunking sound and feeling? Is it just a very slow soft controlled putting them down?

    1. Thanks for your question, Miaow. Doesn't it feel more natural to put your heels down? Tango is a popular dance - that is it comes from "the people", in family and social situations, and uses the body's natural movements.

      I would venture that the "never put your heels down" rule may come from SOME dancers who dance "apilado" (leaning), a version of milonguero style, because it facilitates the lean.

      I'd rather you don't think about your feet or your heels when you dance. Focus on the music and your feelings in the embrace with your partner, and your body will respond in the most organic way. When you do that, I believe your heels won't make a clunking sound. Mine never do. We put our heels down softly, which may be due to our having our upper bodies a bit forward to physically connect with our partners. In tango salon, your weight should be over the centers of your feet (arches) almost all the time.

      I hope this has been helpful!