Tango Tribu

Tango and Health

The Health Benefits of Dancing Tango

 

Tango and health… This article describes ongoing peer-review research on the benefits of dancing the Argentine Tango in general, and in particular, for those with disabilities. However, this review is not exhaustive, for which reason the reader is invited to contact the author at patricia.mckinley@mcgill.ca, in order to provide studies or information that they consider should be included. in review.

 

Why dance tango? Those of you who already do it know why you dance tango, but you may be interested in knowing some of the studied benefits of this wonderful dance and why health professionals consider it an ideal exercise that benefits social, mental and physical well-being at all ages. In this brief review, I intend to analyze the main contributions of this wonderful activity.

 

Why Tango is Healthy?

The dance targets 6 main areas that are considered important for achieving a high quality of life and successful aging:

 

  1. physical exercise
  2. social satisfaction
  3. spirituality and mindfulness
  4. cognition
  5. significance
  6. health for emotions and learning

 

While all dance genres confer some kind of benefit, dancing Argentine tango showed particular improvement in these areas, in both healthy and disabled populations. Plus, it appears to convey more benefits than ballroom dancing, according to Drs. Hackney and Earhart. Many researchers believe that the combination of tango music, the sense of accomplishment, and the attention required to follow the improvised tango movements especially contribute to improved physical and cognitive health. Also, the fact that the Argentine tango is mainly danced on foot makes it easier to learn and dance than many other dances; and by promoting the change of partners, it facilitates interaction with the community of dancers. Let’s analyze these areas individually to understand the concrete effects of Argentine tango.

 

  1. Physical exercise

  • Tango is good for cardiovascular health.

It is possible to modify its intensity to guarantee a resistance exercise. Strictly speaking, in Argentina, doctors Comasco and Peidro have shown in the hospital environment that tango can be used to improve the cardiovascular health of people who have suffered a cardiac event or heart attack.

 

  • Tango increases mobility, balance, stride length and core strength.

These changes were demonstrated by Dr. McKinley and colleagues not only in healthy individuals but also in those at risk of falling, in people with Parkinson’s disease (Drs. Hackney and Earhart), in people with visual impairment (Dr. Hackney), and , in a case study, in a person after a stroke (ref. name).

 

  1. Social satisfaction

  • Interaction with people who share interests.

Tango dancing in pairs has proven to be an important, participatory and self-promotional activity due to the enjoyment and identification it generates within the group of people who have similar interests and goals, according to doctors Kreutz and Tateo.

 

  • Interaction with people who share goals.

According to researchers McKinley, Rabinovich, Pinniger, and Tesmijian, individuals with disabilities associated with Parkinson’s disease, visual impairment, or depression have expressed a sense of shared goals, including improved mobility, a sense of connectedness, and understanding with others and the ability to learn a new activity while reducing isolation.

 

  1. Spirituality and mindfulness

  • Tango induces mindfulness and spirituality.

The stream of consciousness is a mental state in which the action is so pleasant that it awakens the desire to repeat it over and over again without wanting to stop. This feeling has been expressed by the following groups:

* Older people at risk of falling: (“When I listen to that music I just want to dance, dance and dance”)

* Parkinson’s disease: (“Other treatments don’t interest me, I don’t know why. They don’t appeal to my body or my mind. It’s like eating without spices. There’s something missing. I stopped attending other therapies but I never miss tango.”)

* Self-diagnosed depression (“I wish I could dance all day, every day.”)

* Visual impairment (“Once the music starts, I start dancing and I don’t want to stop; I feel young and healthy again.”)

 

Spirituality is often expressed in terms of tango as a holistic activity. (“In these classes they not only take care of our body, but they also take care of our spirit. While we dance we are people…not sick people”).

 

  • Improves mindfulness.

In a series of studies, Drs. Pinniger, McKinley, and their colleagues have shown that Argentine tango helps individuals focus on the present and the task at hand. Due to the importance of the interaction between the partners for the execution of the steps, the dancers must concentrate on the task at hand. There is no time to worry about other issues or problems that could befall them. This factor is so strong that tango has been shown to improve mindfulness more than meditation or resistance training in people with self-reported depression.

 

  1. Cognition

  • Specific cognitive skills can be improved.

Jacobson and McKinley found that in people at risk of falling, the ability to perform two tasks at the same time, such as circulating in space and synchronizing with the partner (dual task), is improved. This indicates that working memory may also improve.

 

  • Dancing seems to be an effective exercise to counteract dementia.

In a large epidemiological study, Dr. Verghese and his colleagues concluded that the main physical activity that seemed to protect against Alzheimer’s disease was dancing.

 

  1. Significance

  • Purpose of tango.

Dancers want not only to learn the steps, but also to execute them gracefully and in sync with their partner. Generally, they have a specific purpose for dancing tango. They want to face the challenge of doing something new; they want to have fun and meet new people.

 

  • The tango is directed towards a goal.

In general, everyone who takes a tango class has a specific goal in mind. For healthy individuals, it could be social interaction, the skill of dancing tango at a wedding, a trip to Argentina, among other things. For people with disabilities, these goals are generally disability-related. People refer to specific objectives, such as «I want to lose the fear of falling», «I would like to walk better», «I would like to be satisfied with myself». Because tango teaching can be easily adapted to the abilities of the individual, and the essence of tango is walking, people feel that they can easily achieve goals.

 

  1. Health for emotions and learning

  • Tango opens a path for learning new skills.

For example, many people with disabilities have expressed the following feeling:

«When I started learning tango I realized that I can still do and learn things. I feel capable again. If I can learn tango, surely I can learn other things as well».

 

  • Tango and its dance stimulate emotional responses.

Brown and his colleagues have shown that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain activity when listening to tango or watching its dance has shown specific activity in the brain related to sensorimotor integration and pleasurable emotion. These responses can be increased by performing tango-like movements while listening to its music. In addition, tango seems to increase the release of testosterone, a response that seems to increase when dancing tango, both in men and women.

 

Tango and disabilities

Tango classes for people with disabilities. Some fundamental elements to ensure that the tango classes generate pleasure and benefit to the participants are described below.

 

  • A skillful partner is preferred: volunteer tangueros are the ideal partners, as they bring more enjoyment and sense of achievement when dancing with them thanks to their skills.

 

  • The music should have a strong and predictable rhythm: a clear, strong and obvious rhythm is essential since the strong rhythm activates many areas of the brain and helps the person to execute the walk as well as other steps.

 

  • Spacious dance area: wide enough without barriers to overcome and with speakers that emit clear and differential sounds in order to facilitate movement around the room for people with visual impairment.

 

  • Break during class: Participants should enjoy a refreshment and a moment to chat and rest in the middle of the class. They hope to be able to socialize and rest for a while.

 

  • Dedicated dance classes: while some individuals attend tango events periodically, others prefer to attend classes or sessions dedicated just for them after having expressed their fear of not being able to dance with frequent tango dancers. Thus, one option would be to dedicate a few hours of class or free dance especially for people with disabilities.

 

Thanks to Patricia McKinley, PhD for writing this article on Tango and health.

Patricia McKinley, PhD, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University. http://www.mcgill.ca/spot/faculty/mckinley

 

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