I recently came across an article on eHow discussing Character Shoes vs Flamenco Shoes. I had expected to read an article that discussed the differences between these shoe types. Well, it did, but what I also found in that article was shocking.
Here we have a “contributor,” Ms. Fiona Miller, the author of the article, talking about the differences between character shoes and Flamenco shoes. Her opening sentence was correct. Things went downhill from there. The 2nd sentence “While Flamenco dancers can, in fact, use character shoes at the beginning of their training, it is important to later invest in a good pair of Flamenco shoes in order to get that authentic Spanish sound.” This statement is, in fact, "bass ackwards." Flamenco shoes are THE most important part of your Flamenco tools and ARE most critical for new dancers at the BEGINNING. It is the seasoned professionals that could get by without nails, but those professionals understand the consequences of doing so.
Using character shoes for Flamenco dance, especially by a beginner who does not yet understand proper technique, can result in serious foot and leg injury.
- The heels are made of wood – I repeat – wood, not plastic.
- The sole area under toe is built up a little extra to accommodate the nails.
- The entire heel is covered with nails.
- The height of the heel is personal preference; however, I do not recommend heels over 3" - your balance will suffer.
- You do not wear socks, tights, nylons or fishnet with Flamenco shoes. You go barefoot. Yes, barefoot.
They do not have metal plates with little metal “bumps”.
They do not have taps.
They do not have only 3 nails (holding the heel cap on)
They have straps or elastic. In my experience, straps are far better because they firmly hold your foot in place, whereas even new elastic has a little “give.” The strap is close to the ankle – it does not go across the instep.
Proper Flamenco Shoes!!!!!
Many new dancers are often hesitant to spend money on shoes “just in case I don’t like it.” I can almost guarantee that if you start Flamenco without proper shoes, you won’t like it. You will have a bad experience and likely come away with an injury. Flamenco dance takes commitment, including committing the financial resources necessary to get proper equipment and proper instruction. Inappropriate equipment and lack of qualified instruction will lead a dancer nowhere; except maybe to an orthopedic doctor; even more so if the dancer is over 50. If you decide to take hangliding lessons and ask your neighbor (a plumber who put a sun shade in his back yard last summer) to teach you and use your bed sheets (budget concern) you will likely get what you pay for – a big medical bill.
Further down in Ms. Miller’s article she expresses concerns about Flamenco shoes with nails being loud and damaging the floor. They are and they do. Which is why the 2nd most important thing in Flamenco footwork is the type of surface you should dance on. Dancing with improper shoes and on improper surfaces will damage you, which is more important than any floor.
I am deadly serious about safety. My new students get the “safety talk” before they take 1 step.
1. Your shoes must have nails – no nails, no footwork.
2. You may only dance on a WOOD surface (with some cushioning underneath, like a carpet). Never, never, ever, dance on concrete or tile – ever. (I ask them to repeat this 5x)
3. You can only lift your leg from the knee backwards towards the butt, not from the thigh upwards towards the chest (and I demonstrate it) before “stomping” on the floor.
4. If your “stomp” hurts your (or anyone else’s) ears, it is too hard.
Very often we turn to the internet for information about a subject we are researching – for advice, instruction, recommendation, etc. When it comes to medical advice, the internet has changed us from “passive patients” into “proactive participants” in our own healthcare. But I am sure we are all aware that when researching medical information you need to check the credentials of the person providing the information. Would you take medical advice from a person who has a Masters in Computer Gaming Software and spent the last 5 years reading gardening books at the library? Where is the relevancy in what this person shows as credentials to the subject you are researching? You want medical advice? Get it from someone who has credentials, academic or practical experience, but in any event, experienced on the specific topic! And the old saying still applies today, “you get what you pay for.”
Ms. Fiona Miller has credentials, but all in language and education. Where is her Flamenco dance experience? I had ballet as a child. Does that make me a pointe shoe expert? Hardly. And as a writer, I am unqualified to write an article informing people on pointe shoes. I might be able to research the subject, but without personal experience (other than wearing a pair as a child) and practical knowledge about pointe shoes, I would not be doing my readers justice. I am a contributor to DanceUS.org; I only contribute on Flamenco as I have no experience or expertise (other than a general passing knowledge) in any other dance type.
We as researchers (and anyone who Googles anything is a researcher) need to temper our enthusiasm to learn by becoming even better researchers. Research the “experts” themselves on the subject you are researching. Then take all the information you come up with, put it in a bowl, mix it around, add a little common sense, and see what commonalities and conclusions you can draw. Use your instinct – trust yourself a little more – rely on experts, but do your homework and go with your “gut” feeling – you will never let yourself down!
So, where do you buy proper Flamenco shoes? First ask you instructor. He or she should be able to direct you to the best sources. If he or she says you don’t have to have nails, I would seriously consider finding another instructor. Flamenco footwork is difficult to master (partly because you have to use the whole body at the same time, not just the foot). And if you start out with improper shoes, you are starting off in a negative position.
So here are some Flamenco shoe FAQs and their simple answers:
Do I need Flamenco shoes to start Flamenco?
Not only “yes,” but “absolutely yes.”
Can I use tap (or ballet or ballroom) shoes?
Not only “no” but “absolutely no.” And no ice skates, roller skates, water skis or snow skis. Nor should you use Flamenco shoes for any of these activities.
I don’t want to buy the shoes until I see if I like Flamenco dance first.
This is like telling your swimming instructor you want to see if you like swimming first before you get into the water. No water, no swimming; no Flamenco shoes, no Flamenco footwork.
Where can I buy Flamenco shoes?
Ask you instructor first – he or she should be able to direct you. If your instructor says nails are not important - again, find a new instructor.
Here are some of my personal Flamenco shoe recommendations, and why:
I believe that the best place to buy ethnic dance wear is from the country where the dance originated. Chinese dance, China; German dance, Germany, Spanish dance, Spain.
Flamencista is company that sells shoes (and all Flamenco dance accessories) made in Spain and that will fit all budgets. The top-of-the-line Gallardo shoes have a fine reputation and long history.
Menkes is a company based in Spain (with a US store also). They have been making Flamenco shoes since 1951. My students have had very little complaints about these shoes.
If your budget will not allow Spanish shoes you could try Miguelitos, a Mexican folklorico shoe company. They make shoes in all sizes, even baby-sizes. My 18-month old dancer had a pair. (Yes, even the babies need nails on the shoes) These shoes do not have the weight of a Menkes shoe, but they are leather with wood heels. I have seen some of these shoes with improper strap placement; also, I have seen that the toe boxes on the men's boots are not very strong, resulting in collapsed toes when doing Flamenco footwork. I would recommend you check them out very carefully to be sure what you are buying is proper for Flamenco dance, which is different from Folklorico dance – including the footwork technique.
I cannot recommend Sansha shoes. Why? Mostly because the heel (and possibly sole) is plastic. While these shoes are reported by students as comfortable to wear, you can “stomp” the floor with all your might and still not get the crisp, sharp sound of a wooden heel. And believe me, beginning students, especially children, will pound the floor with all their might to try and make a sound like the instructor, all to no avail – the shoe will not let you do it. Sansha shoes used to be very inexpensive – that no longer is the case. And for the prices dance stores sell them for, a student would be better off saving up their money and investing in a Mexican or Spanish shoe.