Don't assume that flamenco shoes made in Spain are automatically good quality. I’ve seen shoddy no-name shoes that were made in Spain, a very serviceable pair made in Australia, and a beautifully crafted pair from Argentina. If you're offered a pair of flamenco shoes, use the following criteria to assess them. If they don’t pass the test, don’t buy them!
- Pick up the shoe firmly by the heel and toe box, and try to twist it sideways (not too hard!). A good flamenco shoe should be rigid.
- Look at the heel. It should be between 3cm and 6cm (just over 1 inch to 2.5 inches). Lower is better, at least to begin with. Cabaret dancers often wear a higher heel to make their legs look longer - but watch flamenco videos and you’ll notice many of the best dancers choose the lower heel, because it’s better for balance and control. The shape of the heel is a matter of taste, though a very narrow heel is harder to balance on and because it gives less support to the shoe, there’s more risk of breaking the shank.
- Check the sole. It should be good, thick rubber, to protect the feet and to create the sound. Immediately reject anything with a wafer-thin leather sole – you’ll end up with a bruised foot!
- What is the material? Flamenco shoes are usually made of leather or suede. Leather takes longer to “break in”, but will look good for longer. Suede shoes come in some gorgeous colours, and are softer on the feet—but of course, that means they will wear out sooner. Don’t buy synthetic—they don’t breathe, nor will they mould to the foot.
- Now for the tacks. There should be a generous amount of them, on the tip of the toe and all over the heel (if not, you won’t get a good sound). If they are overlapped, they will be less likely to fall out in use. Run your finger over them. If they are smooth, it’s a sign of a good craftsman.
If the shoe passes these basic tests, it’s worth trying them on. Don’t assume that because a shoe is “your size”, that it will automatically fit! Walk around. Does the fastening (elastic, buckle) keep the shoe on, even if you stride? Try dancing a little. Do they feel good?
Remember, everyone's feet are different - go with what works for you, not with what other people tell you is the "best" shoe. It’s quite meaningless to talk (as many do) about Gallardo shoes being “the best” flamenco shoes, or raving about Corals. Gallardos are beautifully made and almost indestructible, but if their lasts don’t suit your foot, you’ll hate them! Coral shoes have a beautiful streamlined look, but that won’t do you any good if they’re the wrong shape for you (even their wide fitting is too narrow for my foot, for instance). My favourite flamenco shoes of all time were from Mayo of Sevilla, which no one else has ever heard of. Trust your own feet!