Beginning Flamenco: Flamenco Shoes
To Buy or Not to Buy
Shop for flamenco shoes on Ebay, and you will see countless listings. A closer inspection will show one reason: many people buy flamenco shoes thinking they are going to take flamenco dance up as a hobby and give up this demanding discipline within months. Sometimes weeks. A flamenca doesn't stop being a novice for years sometimes – and even beginners' shoes are made to go that distance!
Learn from the Ebayers: you do not need to invest in a quality pair of flamenco shoes in the first months of your flamenco dance. That said, it is difficult if not impossible for a beginning flamenco student to dance without appropriate footwear. Here are some options.
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- Use a sturdy heel with a strap. I did this the first few weeks (minus the first class when I showed up in a zumba outfit!) Now, any time I'm wearing sturdy heels (boots are best actually), I try a few tacons and a golpe or two to test the sound. It is never the same, of course, but you can get a feel for the movement.
- Buy a pair of character shoes. These are widely available in dance stores and discount dance websites. They look like flamenco shoes, minus the nails. They are not as sturdy, and they will not do for more than a few weeks, but they are much cheaper than even the lowest level of flamenco shoes. Buy these only if you do not own suitable heels.
- But a pair of cheap flamenco shoes. I found a pair of Miguelitos for $60. They did not make a great sound, but they were sturdy enough and hand the nails. I practiced with them for months.
- Utilize your predecessors' mistakes: buy a used pair on Ebay. This can be tricky as sizing is different in flamenco shoes, but, again, the cost is much cheaper than even Miguelitos usually. On the flip side, you may score a high-end pair for cheap – it's possible!
- DO NOT use tap shoes. The shape might be the same, but the sound is completely different.
If you have been flamenco dancing for a few months – and you have withstood the abuse of your Spanish-born teacher this long – it is probably time to invest in a pair of quality flamenco shoes.
Ordering Shoes On-Line
How do you feel about ordering shoes on-line?
What to Look For
If you are lucky enough to be shopping in Spain or a metropolis such as New York City, you may be choosing shoes first-hand. If so, here are some criteria the keep in mind:
- Look for rigidity. Twist the shoe – if it gives, it is not supportive enough for the zapateado (footwork) you will be executing. (NB: You probably shouldn't try this in Spain – I've gotten yelled at just for putting my finger on merchandise.)
- Look for a thick sole. Again, the flamenco dance involves using your feet as percussive instruments – you want as much protection as possible! A good sole will be leather with a thick rubber or cushioned covering.
- Choose a low heel. Unless you are accustomed to dancing in higher heels, choose a "cubano" heel or a low (5 cm) heel. The cubano heel provides a wide base – ideal for beginning dancers.
- Choose leather or suede. It is unlikely you will find synthetic material in a flamenco store, but if you do for some reason, avoid it. The shoes need to conform to your feet, which doesn't happen with synthetic material. Leather is more rigid and will keep its shape longer; suede is easier to break in at the beginning. (I chose suede.)
- Get nails. They are essential for the tapping sound. They should cover a wedge-shape at the toe and completely cover the heel. They should overlap just slightly and be securely set in.
- Buy black. Green-blue-red-tan is not really the new black when it comes to flamenco. Black is black, and it is always traditional. You can wear them with any costume. (I got blue flames on my toes, and though I love the look, I wish I had black going into my first show. My flamenco teacher, Natalia, was right!)
Most of us are not lucky enough to be shopping for our first proper set of flamenco shoes in Seville – or even New York City. If that's the case, you'll need to order your shoes on-line.
First of all, it is still possible to buy a pair from Ebay. I have seen some of the top names for sale. However, it is not a guarantee for size or quality. Plus, you are buying from a private seller, so you may get ripped off. If the price is more than $150, it is better to buy a pair from a retailer.
Here are some brands to consider:
- Don Flamenco: This brand has a bricks-and-mortar shop in Madrid as well as their own website. They are also sold on hub flamenco sites such as Flamenco Export. They start at €90.00; hand-sewn soles are extra. This is an excellent base brand, and they offer wide widths. Their customer service is also surprisingly friendly – when my shoes were shipped, they wished me "happy dancing!"
- Menkes: This store has shops all over Spain as well as France and New York City. They are also sold on-line via their own site and hub sites. They are a little more expensive than Don Flamenco, but that does not necessarily mean they are better. They do offer some more creative styles. Their shoes start at €110; hand-sewn soles are extra. They also offer wide-widths. The most advances student at my flamenco studio wears these shoes.
- Gallardo: This high-end brand has a bricks-and-mortar shop in Madrid. It is possible to buy shoes from their website (after sending an email query), but they are also sold on hub sites such as Flamenco Export. Their shoes start at €112, but most styles cost €139-€148. These are high-quality shoes. My flamenco teacher, Natalia, dances most often in these shoes.
- Senovilla: These are some top-end shoes. While the other brands offer gradations, meaning you don't have to buy professional-grade shoes, Senovilla are designed and made only for the professional level. Their price reflects this: their shoes start at €142 but quickly go up. These are the shoes Natalia aspires to buy.
There are some other considerations when ordering on-line:
- If buying from Spain, add $50 and a month or two for shipping.
- If buying from a U.S. distributor, the $50 for shipping has already been added.
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Measuring Your Feet
It is possible to buy a pair of flamenco shoes off the shelf, or pre-made. However, flamenco shoes are usually custom made; they are all hand- made (if buying from a traditional brand). Unless you are in Spain where a professional will measure your feet, you will need to do so yourself. A reputable website will offer instructions. Regardless, here they are:
- Measure a naked foot – no socks or even nylons.
- Stand on a blank paper.
- Hold a pencil perpendicular to your foot. Draw the outline, keeping the pencil straight.
- Draw both feet.
- Draw a straight line at the outer curve of the heel.
- Draw a straight line at the tip of the longest toe.
- Measure between the two lines.
Depending on the brand, this measurement will translate into a size. It may be similar to the European size, or it may be its own, special, flamenco size. With Don Flamenco, the size corresponded; in Senovilla, I would wear a half-size smaller.
Pay great attention when measuring your foot. Besides the people selling flamenco shoes because they gave the dance up, many Ebayers are selling custom-made shoes that turned out to be the wrong size. In my opinion, give yourself the millimeter breathing room: error bigger, not smaller. There are shoe inserts. You probably do not want to have a millimeter of toe surgically removed.
Flamenco shoes are an investment. If you are going to pursue the flamenco dance even as a hobby, flamenco shoes are a necessary investment. Your feet are the percussive instruments in flamenco, and that is painful enough without adding improper shoes. Besides, the sound from a decent pair of flamenco shoes is far superior to that from any low-end brand. My Miguelitos sound muffled next to my Don Flamencos. A fellow novice started losing the sole of her Carpezio brand. So, pull up a website, design a pair of custom-order, hand-made leather shoes, and wait in anticipation for a month or two. Even if you, unwisely, get blue flames on your toes, it will still be a love affair. I know it is with mine.